Modi announces slew of steps to boost ties with Sri Lanka

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Colombo: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday announced a slew of measures to boost bilateral ties with Sri Lanka, including energy cooperation and visa on arrival for tourists while underlining that the “complex” fishermen row needed a long-term solution.

In a statement after talks with President Maithripala Sirisena, Modi said an MoU in customs signed on Friday would help address ColomboÂ’s concerns on trade imbalance. He said it would simplify trade and reduce non-tariff barriers on both sides.

Modi is the first Indian prime minister to pay a bilateral visit to Sri Lanka after 1987.

The Indian leader announced that Lanka IOC, Indian Oil’s subsidiary in Sri Lanka, and Ceylon Petroleum Corp had agreed to jointly develop the “Upper Tank Farm of the China Bay Installation in Trincomalee on mutually agreed terms”.

The China Bay tank farm is a World War II depot in the eastern district of Trincomalee, one of the largest tank farms in South Asia.

Modi said a Joint Task Force would be set up soon to work out the modalities. “India stands ready to help Trincomalee become a regional petroleum hub.”

He said he looked forward to early commencement of work on the ground in the Sampur Coal Power Project, which he said would meet Sri Lanka’s energy needs.

The 2 X 250 MW coal power plant in Sampur is Sri Lanka’s second coal fired thermal power plant. It is being implemented as a joint venture of Ceylon Electricity Board and NTPC in Trincomalee district.

Modi also announced the setting up of a Joint Task Force on Ocean Economy to tap the vast oceans that hold enormous promise for both countries.

He announced a number of measures to boost people-to-people connect and increase tourism.

These include issuing visa on arrival to Sri Lankan tourists from April 14, the Sinhala and Tamil New Year; Air India’s direct flights between New Delhi and Colombo; India’s cooperation in developing a Ramayana Trail in Sri Lanka and a Buddhist Circuit in India; holding a Festival of India in Sri Lanka later this year.

He said India would organise an exhibition showcasing IndiaÂ’s Buddhist heritage as part of the festival.

Modi announced a fresh Line of Credit of up to $318 million for Sri Lankan railways. India is also providing assistance for construction of a Rabindranath Tagore auditorium at Ruhuna University in Matara.

Modi said the Reserve Bank of India and the Central Bank of Sri Lanka had agreed to enter into a Currency Swap Agreement of $1.5 billion. “This will help keep the Sri Lankan rupee stable.”

On the festering fishermen issue, he said: “This complex issue involves livelihood and humanitarian concerns on both sides. We should handle it from this perspective.”

He added that both countries needed to find a long-term solution to the issue.

Modi said fishermen’s associations in both countries should meet soon to find a mutually acceptable arrangement, which can then be taken forward by both governments.

He praised President SirisenaÂ’s efforts to build “an inclusive future for Sri Lanka” and conveyed IndiaÂ’s “sincere support and good wishes for Sri Lanka’s new journey of peace, reconciliation and progress”.

On the India-brokered 13th constitutional amendment on devolution of powers to provinces including the Tamil-dominated North, he said its “early and full implementation” would contribute to the process of establishing a united Sri Lanka.

He said he was glad to be in Colombo so soon after Sirisena’s trip to India.

“This is how it should be between neighbours. It helps to find solutions of mutual concerns and move the relations forward.

“I also conveyed India’s commitment to further strengthening our partnership in advancing peace and prosperity in our region, including our common maritime neighbourhood,” said Modi.

India and Sri Lanka also signed four agreements following delegation level talks attended by Modi and Sirisena.

The agreements cover exemption from visa for holders of diplomatic passports and an MoU for youth development.

Modi, who arrived Friday morning from Mauritius on the final leg of a three-nation tour, was received at the airport by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

He was accorded a ceremonial welcome at the presidential secretariat.

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