Concern in Colombo over delay in Indian projects

Sushma discusses bilateral issues with Sri Lankan President

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Friday met Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena and discussed bilateral matters, including the perceived delay in implementing Indiabacked projects in the island. The meeting took place at President Sirisena’s residence, a top source in Colombo told The Hindu .

While Ms. Swaraj assured President Sirisena that New Delhi appreciated the domestic political challenges facing his government, she urged Colombo to expedite decision-making on Indian projects, the top source said, requesting anonymity. India assured Sri Lanka of its continued and fullest support, a statement from the President’s office said.

Graft charge

The national unity government led by President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe — from the rival parties SLFP and UNP —is under pressure. It faces large-scale corruption allegations in addition to a challenge from the SLFP faction led by former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has vowed to topple the government.

The government’s agreements with foreign actors including China and India have come under sharp criticism from sections in the country’s Sinhala-majority south.

The specifics of a host of India-supported development projects in Sri Lanka have been under negotiation since April 2017, when the neighbours signed an overarching MoU.

Expression of interest

In addition to jointly developing a World War-era oil tank in the strategically located eastern port town of Trincomalee, India has more recently expressed interest to operate Sri Lanka’s second international airport in Mattala. The southern town is 40 km away from Hambantota, where China has majority stake in a port. However, New Delhi has been concerned over Colombo’s apparently slow-paced efforts in taking the projects forward.

Ms. Swaraj was in Colombo to participate in the Indian Ocean Conference, 2017, which was organised by the India Foundation.

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