In talks with India on two Dornier planes: Sri Lanka FM
New Delhi and Colombo are discussing a proposal to supply two Dornier aircraft for the Sri Lankan army.
In an interview with The Indian Express, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister GL Peiris, who met External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and National Security Advisor Ajit K Doval in New Delhi, said: “He there is a proposal to purchase two Dornier aircraft. There is no finality, nothing has been agreed. There are proposals and counter-proposals, and this is one of the issues under discussion.
He said one of the issues discussed during his visit was the upcoming session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, where Sri Lanka has repeatedly been accused of backtracking on its 2015 commitments to fight against violations of rights with a view to post-war national reconciliation.
His visit comes weeks after India provided an economic lifeline to Colombo which includes a $500 million revolving line of credit from the Exim Bank of India, a $1 billion line of credit for the food and pharmaceuticals, a $515 million Asian Clearing Union settlement deferral and a $400 million currency swap facility.
There was no discussion of the implementation of the 13th Amendment at his meetings, Peiris said. Last month, Sri Lankan Tamil parliamentarians wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, asking for India’s help in implementing this constitutional provision of decentralization of powers which had been included during the Indian intervention of 1987.
Peiris, who took office in August 2021, said relations between India and Sri Lanka had reached a “high point”. India’s concerns about China, which he said had no “rational basis”, had been “relegated to the past”. However, he reported that the issue of fishermen between the two countries was “the only flashpoint”, requiring “urgent attention”.
He said Sri Lanka and India were now seeking to “transform the character of the relationship, elevating it from a transactional level to a strategic partnership”. A key element of this, he said, would be “closer integration of India’s economy with that of Sri Lanka” in sectors such as ports, energy, tourism and hospitality, and pharmaceuticals.
The two sides, he said, were planning a joint working group during Jaishankar’s visit in the second half of March, which would include the two foreign ministers, the two fisheries ministers and possibly a representation from the Tamil Nadu.
Indian official sources confirmed that the two parties were in “very early” discussions on the supply of the two Dornier planes.
Move to reset bilateral relations
Sri Lanka and India are considering “closer integration” of their economies in sectors such as ports, energy, tourism and hospitality, and pharmaceuticals. Also on the table is a plan for a joint working group which will include foreign ministers and fisheries ministers from both countries, and possibly representation from Tamil Nadu.
The Dornier is a twin-engine multipurpose aircraft, used by the Indian Navy and Coastguard for maritime surveillance. It is also used by the Indian Air Force. It is manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd under license from the Swiss company RUAG and is a centerpiece of the government’s “Make In India” programme.
India’s proposal to transfer a maritime surveillance aircraft to Sri Lanka has been around for four years, but with relations cooling in the recent past, the issue has never been seriously discussed.
The Dornier aircraft was among 23 from the IAF fleet that took part in a flypast and aerobatics during the 70th anniversary of the Sri Lankan Air Force in March 2021. At that time, The Indian High Commission has declared Sri Lanka to be “priority one” for India in the sphere of defence.
Peiris said his government and New Delhi were seeking to more immediately finalize a memorandum of understanding on a $15 million Indian fund for the renovation of Buddhist temples, and another collaboration agreement between the Sushma Swaraj Institute of Foreign Service. and the Colombo-based Bandaranaike. International Diplomatic Training Institute. Another proposal being discussed is for India to provide a 4,000 metric ton floating dock.
Sri Lanka “hopes”, said Peiris, that Prime Minister Modi will be able to attend in person the BIMSTEC summit which he is hosting this year as chairman of the grouping. The summit will be held in the hybrid format.
“So much has happened in the past few months that there could be some real substance to this visit,” he said.
The decision whether or not to invite the head of the Burmese junta which seized power in a coup last year should be “collegial”, and Sri Lanka would consult with all other members of the regional grouping, including including Bangladesh and Thailand.
Peiris said Sri Lanka was “in close contact” with India on the upcoming HRC session, during which Commissioner Michelle Bachelet is due to present a second draft report on Sri Lanka. The first, presented last year, was a strong criticism of Sri Lanka’s inability to resolve post-war problems and the emergence of new challenges such as the marginalization of the Muslim minority alongside the Tamils.
“India is keenly aware of all the progress that has been made in recent years, especially with regard to the work that has been done on the ground by the so-called local mechanisms, such as the Office for Missing Persons, the Office of Reparations, the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation, the Council of Sustainable Development Goals 16 and the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka,” he said.
In November 2019, Sri Lanka withdrew from co-sponsoring a 2015 HRC resolution committing it to take several steps towards ethnic reconciliation, including justice for rights violations, tracing of missing persons and reparations to the Tamil community.
Peiris said the resolution pitted Sri Lanka against its own armed forces, which is why President Gotabaya Rajapaksa withdrew from its co-sponsorship. But, he said, there were steps Sri Lanka was taking on its own, including reforming the Prevention of Terrorism Act. He called criticism in Sri Lanka that the reforms were insufficient “unfair”.
Earlier this month, Sri Lanka released a Muslim lawyer controversially arrested under the PTA after the 2019 Easter bombings. Peiris dismissed suggestions the move was being taken as Colombo was concerned European Union punitive measures such as the withdrawal of preferential tariffs under the European Generalized System of Preferences Plus for Sri Lankan exports.
He said his government was confident this would not happen, but in the ‘unlikely’ scenario of a pullout it would harm the most vulnerable sections of the Sri Lankan population, including women in the garment industry. and fishing communities.
“So if you take it away, it’s not a punitive measure against the government, it’s a punitive measure directed at the poorer sections of the Sri Lankan community, the least able to bear this extra burden. It just doesn’t make sense,” he said.