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Important for India-Lanka to strengthen ties based on good neighbourly relations: Shringla

COLOMBO: Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla on Monday said that it is important for India and Sri Lanka to work together to strengthen economic partnership and deepen the time-tested bilateral ties founded on the principles of mutual benefit, mutual understanding and a common purpose defined by good neighbourly relations.

Shringla, in his remarks at the inauguration of the Indian Development Cooperation Projects at Temple Trees, the official residence of the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka here, said that India and Sri Lanka have both seen major disruptions to their economies by the devastating coronavirus pandemic.

"As we seek rapid socio-economic recovery for our respective countries, it is important to work together to strengthen our economic partnership and deepen our time-tested bilateral ties founded on the principles of mutual benefit, mutual understanding and a common purpose defined by good neighbourly relations," he was quoted as saying in a statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).

"Let me state on this occasion that on our part, we will leave no stone unturned in mitigating the adverse impact of the COVID-19 restrictions on our socio-economic engagement and will stand together with the Government of Sri Lanka in its efforts for post-COVID recovery," he said.

The Foreign Secretary, who arrived in Sri Lanka on Saturday on a four-day visit, said that the Indian government will also support the development of facilities for tourists and pilgrims at sites associated with the Ramayana circuit in Sri Lanka.

Shringla said that he is honoured to participate in the ceremony for the inauguration of Indian development projects in Sri Lanka.

"This is my first visit to Sri Lanka in my current capacity but I have had the pleasure of visiting Sri Lanka on a number of occasions in the past. During the course of all these years, I have been a witness to the comprehensive transformation of our ties.

"Yesterday, I had the pleasure of visiting Kandy for a darshan of the blessed Dalada Maligawa temple. I also visited Trincomalee and Jaffna where I saw the Jaffna Cultural Centre, an iconic project built with Indian grant assistance," he said.

These places vividly recount the shared cultural heritage of the two countries and the strong bilateral development partnership, he said.

Shringla said that the high-level visits, in particular the state visits of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to India in November 2019 and February 2020 respectively, have given fresh impetus to the bilateral relations.

"The virtual bilateral summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in September 2020 was an important milestone as it set the template for the future evolution of our cooperation in fields such as defence and security, health, tourism, trade and commerce and people to people ties," the Foreign Secretary said.

In the past one year, India has buttressed its credentials of being a net security provider and first responder in HADR (Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief ) situations in the wider Indian Ocean region, he said.

India was happy to respond to Sri Lanka's requests in recent cases of fire and marine pollution in its waters, Shringla said, adding that the Indian Navy also deployed its assets for rapid delivery of medical grade oxygen to Sri Lanka in August to deal with its COVID-19 situation.

"During the Covid pandemic period, India kept its air space open for travel for specific and urgent medical needs of Sri Lanka.

"With the easing of the situation in Sri Lanka, it may be opportune for us to work on connectivity initiatives like the Jaffna to Chennai flight, ferry services between Karaikal and Kankesanthurai and Dhanushkodi and Talaimanar and the Buddhist corridor with the new international airport at Kushinagar," he said.

In 2009, India commenced its housing project in Sri Lanka. Over time, this project has become an integral part of the bilateral development cooperation partnership, Shringla noted.

"Today, we are dedicating 1,235 houses in the third phase of the Indian Housing Project which is spread across the hill country," he said.

In 2009, the Sri Lankan government brought an end to the country's civil war fought mainly in the north and east of the island nation with the killing of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam ( LTTE) chief Velupillai Prabhakaran.

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PTI