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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2525

Samaraweera dangles economic carrots before India

By M Rama Rao in New Delhi

New Delhi, 10 May ( Winding up his visit to the Indian capital, the Sri Lankan foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera dangles the economic carrots. Initial response shows that the offer went down well. In contrast, the visit failed to show any positive movement forward on political and defence arena.

Samaraweera interacted with Commerce Minister Kamlnath, Civil Aviation minister Praful Patel and Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahmed who hosted a lunch in his honour.

Ahamed-Samaraweera talks over lunch covered the possibilities of early conclusion of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement as also the progress on the grant of concessional credits to Sri Lanka for infrastructure projects. Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran was also present. It was agreed that CEPA talks would expedited and the pact signed before the year is out.

Samaraweera extended an invitation to Ahamed to visit Sri Lanka and this was accepted in principle.

Addressing a news conference before his departure for home, the Foreign Minister said that Sri Lanka offered an oil block to India for exploration.

"Given our close relations, we are offering one block (of oil) on a preferential basis to the Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC)", Samaraweera said and expressed confidence that the discussion on this would be 'finalized soon'.

Asked about the CEPA, he said Colombo was satisfied at the 'good progress' made in the negotiations. Both Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and commerce minister Kamlnath shared 'our assessment' that the agreement could be finalised and signed well within this year.

"In fact, we agreed on a meeting of senior officials in the very near future to expedite the process,' Samaraweera said. He also met the defence minister Pranab Mukherjee who told him that Delhi was still studying the finer details of a bilateral defence agreement.

Open Skies
The Samaraweera – Patel talks focused on an open sky policy between the two countries.

"The talks between the two Ministers centred on enhancing connectivity, exploring possibility of more cooperation, opening up of new points for the designated Sri Lankan carriers and increasing cargo flights to India", an official release said.

Samaraweera said his talks with Patel were 'fruitful' on more flights between the two countries and also the possibility of an open sky policy within the framework of the air traffic agreement of the SAARC nations. "Officials of the two countries would meet in June-July in Colombo to discuss how to further the flexibility of the existing bilateral framework", he stated.

Patel said India was in favor of increasing connectivity with Sri Lanka but a separate agreement was not possible outside the SAARC framework. "We have a standard policy template on aviation for the SAARC countries, which applies to each and every nation of the group and whatever we do will have to be within that framework", the Indian minister said.

Choke Tigers
Fielding questions on the LTTE factor at his presser, the Sri Lankan minister said the Tigers were 'testing' the government's patience by continuing attacks. "The (Sri Lankan) Government has shown great restraint, has been very patient because despite the provocations, we feel the negotiated solution is the only answer", he said. He made out a strong case to globally ban the LTTE and choke funds to the outfit. He asked India to play a pro-active role in this regard.

- Asian Tribune -

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