India, Sri Lanka sign nuclear deal, energise ties


modi-sirisenaEnding a prolonged period of drift in India-Sri Lanka relations, the two neighbouring countries upgraded bilateral ties by signing four agreements, including a landmark pact for civil nuclear cooperation.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sri Lanka’s newly-elected President Maithripala Sirisena held wide-ranging talks in the Indian capital New Delhi to bolster strategic ties, increase trade and resolve long-standing issues between the two nations

“The bilateral agreement on civil nuclear cooperation is another demonstration of our mutual trust. We discussed expansion of cooperation in energy sector both conventional and renewable,” Mr Modi said in a joint media interaction with the Sri Lankan president.

The two leaders also spent some time discussing the festering issue of fishermen straying into the other country’s territorial waters and underline the importance of resolving this issue.

“President Sirisena and I attach highest importance to the fishermen issue and will address fishermen associations on both sides soon,” said Mr Modi.

President Sirisena, who has travelled on his maiden trip to India a little over a month after taking charge of the island nation, underscored the importance of India- Sri Lanka bilateral relations. “This is my first official visit and it has given very fruitful results. Relations between our countries will strengthen. We have already signed agreements on several subjects,” he said.

The four-day visit to India from February 15 to 18 by the Lankan president is aimed at ushering a new chapter in bilateral ties that had suffered and languished during the last few years of his predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa. This is Sirisena’s first foreign visit since winning national elections held in January.

Indian strategic experts argue that the trip indicates Sri Lanka is paying full attention to defuse tension that had crept into the diplomatic relationship of two countries as China made rapid forays into what New Delhi considers its “strategic backyard.”

The president’s delegation comprises Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne, Resettlement Minister D M Swaminathan, Power and Energy Minister Champika Ranawaka and Justice Minister Wijayadasa Rajapaksha.

Mr Sirisena will also travel to Buddhist pilgrimage hub Bodh Gaya and the temple in Tirupati on February 17 before returning home the next day.

Mr Modi is scheduled to visit Sri Lanka in March, the first bilateral visit by an Indian Prime Minister to the island nation in over 25 years since Rajiv Gandhi travelled to Colombo to sign the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord with the then Sri Lankan President, J. R. Jayewardene.

“I thank the Sri Lanka president for his invitation to visit Sri Lanka, eagerly looking forward to visiting his beautiful country in March,” Modi said.

During the visit, Mr Modi is likely to travel to Jaffna in the Tamil-majority Northern Province. The Palk Bay conflict, affecting the fishermen of both nations, and the swifter implementation of the 13th Amendment which entails devolution of powers to the Tamil-majority areas are themes that are going to figure prominently the agenda.