Sri Lanka today played down Indian concerns on the Hambantota port with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe saying it will not be used for military purposes.
The Hambantota port is to be operated by China and this had led to concerns by India that the port will be used by the Chinese for military purposes.
However Ranil Wickremesinghe told the delegates attending the second Indian Ocean Conference in Colombo today that the port will not be used as a base by any foreign military.
Minister of External Affairs of India Sushma Swaraj was among the delegates attending the Colombo conference.
“Let me refer to Sri Lanka’s decision to develop its major sea ports, especially the Hambantota port which some claim to be a military base. I state clearly that Sri Lanka’s Government headed by President Maithripala Sirisena does not enter into military alliances with any country or make our bases available to foreign countries,” he said.
The Prime Minister said Sri Lanka will continue military cooperation such as training, supply of equipment and taking part in joint exercises with friendly countries.
“Only the Sri Lanka Armed Forces have the responsibility for military activities in our Ports and Airports. We are also working with foreign private investors on the commercial development of our ports,” he added.
He also said that in the absence of an effective multilateral trade agreements for the Indian Ocean region Sri Lanka has decided to enter into bilateral agreements with the neighboring littoral states.
“This is the only option available. We already have Free Trade Agreements with India and Pakistan. We are in the process of deepening our FTA with India to enable greater economic cooperation. We will finalize a FTA with Singapore and then to conclude similar trade agreements with other countries in the Bay of Bengal region. We are also negotiating an FTA with China. Furthermore, Sri Lanka is also entitled to EU’s concession granting GSP+ facilities,” he said.
Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said the Indian Ocean is prone to non-traditional security threats like piracy, smuggling, maritime terrorism, illegal fishing, and trafficking of humans and narcotics.
“We realize that to effectively combat transnational security challenges across the Indian Ocean, including those posed by non-state actors, it is important to develop a security architecture that strengthens the culture of cooperation and collective action. The success of maritime cooperative action against piracy in the Gulf of Aden is an example of the benefits of a cooperative approach which resulted in a dramatic decline in piracy incidents in the region,” she told the delegates.
She says India is prepared to bear its share of responsibility in this regard.
Vice President of Seychelles Vincent Meriton, Foreign Minister of Singapore Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Commerce of Bangladesh Tofail Ahmed and Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan Iwao Horii were among the key participants at the conference. (Colombo Gazette)