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Foreign Minister S Jaishankar Lands In Sri Lanka For Bilateral Talks, BIMSTEC Summit

It said Mr Jaishankar would take part in all important bilateral talks with Sri Lankan leaders.

Colombo:

Foreign Minister S Jaishankar arrived in Colombo on Sunday to hold bilateral talks with Sri Lanka’s top leadership and attend the seven -nation BIMSTEC summit.

This is his first visit to the island nation since India extended its economic aid package to save Sri Lanka from the current economic crisis.

“Arrive in Colombo for a bilateral visit and BIMSTEC meeting. Stay tuned for my discussion in the next two days,” he tweeted.

Mr Jaishankar arrived here after concluding his visit to the Maldives where he held talks with the country’s top leadership on various issues related to bilateral cooperation.

The minister’s visit to Sri Lanka and the Maldives is part of his five -day two -state visit to India’s two major maritime neighbors to explore the possibility of further expansion of bilateral engagement.

While Mr Jaishankar’s visit to Colombo was primarily for BIMSTEC’s involvement, officials said he would take part in all important bilateral talks with Sri Lankan leaders.

Apart from India and Sri Lanka, BIMSTEC comprises Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan.

The summit was hosted by Sri Lanka in its capacity as chairman of the BIMSTEC group (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi -Sector Technical and Economic Cooperation).

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will attend the BIMSTEC group’s virtual summit on March 30, which is expected to focus on expanding economic engagement among its member countries.

The summit comes as Sri Lanka faces the worst foreign exchange crisis of all time after the outbreak hit the island nation’s income from tourism and remittances.

India, since mid -January, has provided economic relief in the form of currency exchanges, deferred repayments and dedicated credit lines for fuel purchases and essential imports.

Mr Jaishankar’s visit is underway at a time when public anger over the inefficiency of the Lankan government in dealing with the crisis has been openly revealed. People staged protests and vigilantly called for an immediate solution to remove them from the fuel and gas queues and suffered power outages for hours.

Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa sees Mr Jaishankar as a helpful ally in efforts to address the issue at a time when serious public anger has turned against the government – this came in the form of peaceful demonstrations urging not only President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to step down but as a whole. The Rajapaksa ruling family resigned for incompetence.

While both the government and Opposition leaders as well as economic analysts have generally appreciated Indian aid, some concerns about pre-Indian conditions if any for such aid have been raised.

In recent days, the Opposition as well as some government allies have raised concerns over several newly approved Indian projects in the island nation.

In addition, there are growing concerns about some of the proposed post -economic aid package engagement with India.

The agreement to provide a grant of USD 6 million for the establishment of a Maritime Rescue Coordination Center in Sri Lanka and the agreement for the implementation of Sri Lanka’s United Digital Identity Framework are two prime examples of pack allegations with India shrouded in secrecy.

The main opposition raised these projects in Parliament, questioning their allegations of lack of transparency and urging the government to seek answers.

India’s aid or economic bailout package includes currency exchange of USD 400 million, USD 500 million for fuel purchases, USD 1 billion for food and necessities and deferment of payments of Asian Currency Units in excess of USD 500 million.

The best explanation for India’s aid came from former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

“India’s aid is because they are worried there will be instability in Sri Lanka with civil unrest. India has never helped the country so far before,” he said during talks with an independent think tank, adding that Sri Lanka should thank India for the aid. although this assistance was only sufficient for another two months.

There is a stream of thought that India has engaged with its neighbors not just to provide economic assistance.

“What we have is an economic crisis and a political crisis,” said Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, head of an independent think tank. Interestingly, a politically influential senior Buddhist monk, Rev Elle Gunawansha, has urged in a letter to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to submit full details on “dealings with India”.

Sri Lanka is facing an acute economic and energy crisis triggered by a shortage of foreign exchange. The sharp rise in prices of major commodities and fuel shortages forced tens of thousands of people to queue for hours outside gas stations. People also face power outages for hours every day.

All necessities are in short supply due to import restrictions forced by the forex crisis.

India recently announced to extend a USD 1 billion line of credit to Sri Lanka as part of its financial assistance to the country to address the economic crisis.

New Delhi had extended a USD 500 million line of credit to Colombo in February to help it buy petroleum products.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)

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