Sushma visit: India, Sri Lanka review bilateral issues (Roundup)

Colombo, Feb 6 (IANS) India and Sri Lanka reviewed the entire gamut of bilateral issues, including defence and economic cooperation and the contentious fishermen’s issue, besides signing two memorandums of understanding (MoUs) as External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj concluded a two-day visit to this island nation on Saturday.

Sushma Swaraj, who led an inter-ministerial delegation and co-chaired the ninth session of the India-Sri Lanka Joint Commission with her Sri Lankan counterpart Mangala Samaraweera on Friday, also held a series of meetings with Sri Lankan leaders, including President Maithripala Sirisena, and delegations of political parties.

“The joint commission acknowledged the depth, intensity and uniqueness of the multifaceted India-Sri Lanka relations encompassing all spheres and founded upon civilisational and close people-to-people linkages,” a statement issued by the Indian high commission here on Saturday said.

Both sides took stock of the preparations underway to begin negotiations on the economic and technology cooperation agreement, according to the statement.

“India will be holding a workshop in early March in Colombo on non-tariff barriers (NTB) and phytosanitary barriers (PTB), regulations and procedures,” it stated. Cognizance was taken of the reconstitution of the CEOs Forum on either side and the

The two sides discussed ways for further collaboration in various projects that have been under discussion, including the upgrade of Palali airport, infrastructure development at Kankesanturai port, Sampur power plant and a special economic zone in Trincomalee.

Defence being a key area of cooperation, the joint commission encouraged further intensification of cooperation through the several defence-related mechanisms already in place.

The two sides also agreed on the need to work together in the area of counter-terrorism .

Both sides agreed to enhance cooperation in the aviation sector and called for early signing of the revised air services agreement that has been pending since September 2013.

Renewable energy cooperation was identified as a promising area for further cooperation India thanked Sri Lanka for having endorsed Prime Minister Narendra Modi-initiated International Solar Alliance.

The Indian housing project for construction and repair of 50,000 houses was reviewed with the joint commission expressing satisfaction over the completion of 44,000 houses.

In the tourism sector, the two sides discussed collaboration on establishing the Ramayana Trail in Sri Lanka and the Buddhist Circuit in South Asia.

The joint commission felt that the small development projects (SDP) scheme had been an excellent model for the development partnership. Projects under the SDP model include establishment of Civil and Mechanical Engineering complex and Skill Development Centre of the Faculty of Agriculture, both in Kilinochchi campus of University of Jaffna, and construction of Rabindranath Tagore Memorial Auditorium at the University of Ruhuna.

“The joint commission also reviewed prominent non-SDP projects such as the construction of the Jaffna Cultural Centre on grant basis and the water supply projects amounting to nearly $475 million to be undertaken by Indian companies under the Buyers’ Credit Scheme of EXIM Bank of India,” the statement said.

Cooperation in the sector of education was also assessed, including the scholarships available to Sri Lankan students to pursue under-graduate, masters, Ph.d degrees in Indian universities, Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) scholarships, and the potential to set up campuses in Sri Lanka by Indian institutions of excellence.

Both sides also agreed to encourage and facilitate collaboration and interaction in the agriculture sector and expedite implementation of the work plan agreed to under the MoU signed in 2015.

Both sides called for early convening of the joint committee for science and technology-related cooperation and the extension of the programme of cooperation which had expired in 2014.

Both sides agreed to find a permanent solution to the fishermen issue for which the Sri Lankan fisheries minister was invited to visit India.

Two MoUs were signed following the meeting – one on construction of a surgical unit and supply of medical equipment at Batticaloa Teaching Hospital and another on renovation of 27 school buildings in the island nation’s Northern Province.

On Saturday, Sushma Swaraj inaugurated a “Rise of Digital India” exhibition, being held as part of the ongoing a festival of India in Sri Lanka, “Sangam”.

She started the day by first calling on President Sirisena whom she briefed on Friday’s joint commission meeting.

She later met former Sri Lankan president Chandrika Kumaratunga at the latter’s residence here.

Leader of the Opposition, R. Sampathan, who belongs to the Tamil National Alliance, also called on the visiting Indian minister.

Before leaving for New Delhi on Saturday, Sushma Swaraj also met with delegations of the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress and Indian origin Tamil political parties.

On Friday, she had called on Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

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