Ministry matters

Sri Lankan Ministry of Defense clarification reveals two recent maritime security pacts with India

New Delhi: Two recent and so far unannounced defense pacts signed between India and Sri Lanka have come to light after the latter’s Ministry of Defense issued a media clarification on Tuesday, March 29, saying the pacts would not hamper not the national security of the island nation, the Hindu reported.

The press release details a “floating dock” which the Union government has provided to Sri Lanka as well as a “Dornier reconnaissance aircraft”, both provided free of charge.

The floating dock and reconnaissance aircraft have been mentioned in bilateral talks between the two nations before, however, Tuesday’s media statement was the first time the signing of these pacts received official confirmation.

The Dornier aircraft is used for maritime surveillance and provides essential information for search and rescue operations, among others. Defense Ministry statements note that an Indian team will remain in Sri Lanka until the latter’s air force has acquired the required expertise.

Sri Lankan Defense Ministry spokesperson Nalin Herath speaking to the Hinduconfirmed that the pacts were signed on March 16 by a secretary of the Ministry of Defense on the Sri Lankan side and an official of the Indian High Commission in Colombo.

The press release also noted that the agreements would reduce the country’s annual expenditure on mooring repairs by 600 million Sri Lankan rupees (LKR) and that the “proposal has been in the works since 2015”.

The clarification from the Sri Lankan Defense Ministry comes after opposition politicians in the country raised concerns over Sri Lanka’s ‘national security’ and ‘sovereignty’ over several defense agreements signed between the two country.

Harin Fernando, an MP from the opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) party, claimed that Sri Lanka had “sold its airspace” to India and that the country was at risk of entering a “regional war” with India. India controlling its “seas and skies”. as China retains control over Port of Hambantota.

The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna Party (JVP), another political opposition, claimed that Sri Lanka signed these pacts in exchange for the $1 billion line of credit India reached out to her in March this year to help overcome the ongoing financial crisis in the country.

Also in February, India extended a $500 million line of credit to its southern neighbor to help buy petroleum products during its severe foreign exchange and energy crisis.

The current revelations come as Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar is visiting Sri Lanka. Although the main focus of his visit was the Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) summit, he had several meetings with Sri Lankan government officials before the summit began.

These included meetings with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his Foreign Minister GL Peiris.

During Jaishankar’s meeting with Peiris, another maritime defense pact was signed including the one relating to the Maritime Rescue Coordination Center (MRCC) provision, among others. The MRCC will cover several naval bases in parts of Sri Lanka’s coast, including Hambantota, where China operates a port.