PM Modi “doesn’t mind” if India is not involved in developing the Colombo Port, claims Sirisena
The Sri Lankan President claimed that his discussion on the issue with PM Modi had taken place on the sidelines of the BIMSTEC summit in Kathmandu last month
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has told President Maithripala Sirisena that India wouldn't mind if it is not involved in the development of the eastern terminal of the Colombo Port , the Sri Lankan leader has claimed. Sirisena's claim, if true, puts a big question mark on India's policy in Sri Lanka, as New Delhi has been vying to win the development rights of the crucial deep-sea terminal.
“PM Modi does not mind the SLPDA (Sri Lanka Ports Development Authority) developing it single-handedly,” Sirisena recalled during a heated exchange with Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe at the weekly cabinet meeting in Colombo on Tuesday. The Sri Lankan President claimed that his discussion on the issue with PM Modi had taken place on the sidelines of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi Sectoral and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) summit in Kathmandu last month, as per a report in Colombo-based English daily Daily Mirror.
A cabinet memorandum presented at the meeting by Ports and Shipping Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, that the eastern container terminal of Colombo Port be developed by government-controlled Sri Lanka Ports Development Authority (SLPDA), had triggered the war of words between the Sirisena and Wickremesinghe. While the Prime Minister had objected to the proposed cabinet memorandum, President Sirisena suggested that Sri Lanka "would compromise its sovereignty by alienating its seaports to external parties in this manner."
Sirisena went on to cite the example of Hambantota Port on the island's south, which has been leased to China, complaining, “If we act like this, we will not be able to berth our own ship in our own port."
The report claimed that the Sri Lankan Prime Minister had jumped to the defence of New Delhi during spat with Sirisena, noting that India was already carrying out most of the transshipment business at the Colombo port. It was then that Sirisena cited his Kathmandu meeting with PM Modi.
The meeting had already created a major diplomatic embarrassment for the Sri Lankan President after The Hindu reported that Sirisena, in the same meeting, had accused India's spy agency Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) of plotting to assassinate him.
“I know Indian PM Narendra Modi does not know about it,” he had added, as he lambasted the police over lackadaisical progress in an alleged assassination plot targeting himself and former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
“If I am the person with authority in this case, I will not keep the present Inspector General of Police (IGP) even for a week,” the President had remarked during the cabinet meeting.
Sirisena's remarks over his assassination plot in media triggered three official rejections from the Sri Lankan government, an official explanation to the Indian High Commissioner in Colombo and a late night telephonic call to Prime Minister Modi, in which he termed the media reports as "utterly baseless and false."
While rejecting the media reports, the statement by Sri Lankan President's office admitted that discussions over progress of investigation into the alleged assassination plot and the development of a Colombo Port terminal did indeed take place at the cabinet meeting.
"The President (in the cabinet meeting) highlighted the importance of Sri Lanka having a deep sea port terminal in the interest of the national economy," said the statement.
The hiccup in bilateral relations come ahead of a two-day visit by the Sri Lankan Prime Minister to India, beginning Thursday. Wickremesinghe is scheduled to hold consultations with PM Modi, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj
At the weekly press briefing of the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi on Thursday, official spokesperson Raveesh Kumar highlighted that reports on assassination plot involving India had been "rejected by the government."
"There were not one but three denials. One issued by President's Media Wing, and others by the Cabinet Committee and the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry," said Kumar.
"President Sirisena even called up the Prime Minister (Modi) yesterday and rejected the reports," said Kumar , adding that "all shades of political opinions in Sri Lanka were in favour of good relations with India."
The hiccup in bilateral relations come ahead of a two-day visit by the Sri Lankan Prime Minister to India, beginning Thursday. Wickremesinghe is scheduled to hold consultations with PM Modi, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.
Sourced in the Sri Lankan government have told National Herald that the development of the East Container Terminal at Colombo Port will be on the talks' agenda when the Sri Lankan PM meets Modi on Friday. "There will also be discussions on the way forward on India's involvement in developing Mattala Airport (located close to China-controlled Hambantota Port) and the Trincomalee oil tank terminal," said Sri Lankan officials.
The resistance to India's involvement, which in itself is designed to counter Beijing's increasing economic clout over Colombo, is mainly said to be coming from the President Sirisena, who will visit Beijing later this month.
- Research and Analysis Wing
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi
- Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh
- Sri Lankan
- External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj
- Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe
- President Maithripala Sirisena
- Raveesh Kumar
- Sri Lanka Ports Development Authority
- Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi Sectoral and Economic Cooperation
- Ports and Shipping Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe