Don’t seek exclusive rights to Sri Lanka, India told

Rajiva Wijesinha, who was in New Delhi on Wednesday while on  his way to Nepal, said, "India should not feel uncomfortable" about China’s growing presence in Sri Lanka.

"We are good friends with both India and China," Wijesinha told IANS in an interview.

"And there is plenty of room for both."

Wijesinha, who studied at Oxford University and has worked as a professor, said Sri Lanka’s geographical position makes it attractive for both the countries, "but (seeking) exclusive rights to Sri Lanka is a waste of time".

"Not at all, not at all," said Wijesinha when asked whether India should begin to worry about the projects being undertaken by China in the island nation.

Citing the example of Hambantota port, he said: "We first offered its development to India. When it didn’t go ahead, it was given to China."

The port is located in Hambantota, one of the lowest per capita income regions in Sri Lanka, and the port will be an important catalyst for major economic development. The total estimated construction cost of Phase 1 of the project is $361 million, out of which 85 percent has been funded by the Ex-Im Bank of China.

The professor said that now India is "moving quickly" and working at the Kankesanturai port in the north.

He gave the assurance that "India has nothing to worry about" regarding China and added: "China is not a Big Brother".

Wijesinha, who is advisor to the president for reconciliation, would like India to help out in providing micro-credit to the ex-combatants of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

In May 2009, Colombo militarily crushed the LTTE, the last stages of the war leaving thousands of combatants and civilians dead.

India outlawed the LTTE in 1992, a year after a Tiger suicide bomber assassinated former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

The bloody war in Sri Lanka, Wijesinha said, left 300,000 internally displaced people. "About 10,000 combatants surrendered while another 1,000 were later caught."

"The idea is to provide micro-credit to the former combatants so that they can restart their lives through entrepreneurship," he said.

"We will soon approach India so that a sum of 1,000 lakh Sri Lankan rupees ($820,000) can be distributed to at least 1,000 ex-combatants."

Speaking animatedly on his favourite subject of education, he admitted that though his country has high literacy, "a lot still needs to be done".

"We have to fast forward education," said the professor who has published "Beyond the First Circle: Travels in the Second and Third Worlds".

He stressed that India has "done a lot" to help reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

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