Another top U.S. State Dept. official to visit Sri Lanka next week

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Richard R. Verma is slated to travel to Sri Lanka, India and the Maldives from February 18 – 23.

According to a statement from the State Department, Verma’s visits are expected to bolster the United States’ cooperation with each of these key Indo-Pacific partners.

The Deputy Secretary’s meetings with senior officials in Colombo will support U.S.-Sri Lankan defense and maritime security cooperation, the statement read further.

Verma will visit the Colombo Port’s West Container Terminal, where the U.S. is supporting Sri Lanka’s ongoing economic recovery through USD 553 million in financing to transform Colombo into a regional shipping hub.

Subsequently, he will meet with civil society leaders to hear their perspective on democratic governance in Sri Lanka and with government officials to voice U.S. support for the protection of free speech and open discourse.

Prior to his Sri Lanka visit, Verma will travel to India and the Maldives to discuss full range of issues including economic cooperation, security, and technology.

Meanwhile, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, Elizabeth M. Allen is scheduled to visit Sri Lanka next week. The State Department said Allen’s visits to India, Sri Lanka and Jordan would underscore the United States’ unwavering commitment to reinforcing and expanding partnerships and alliances.

While in Colombo, she plans to foster dialogue on freedom of expression and democratic values with diverse groups of stakeholders, including journalists, civil society members, government officials, and the Embassy’s Youth Forum.

Her engagements with the Sri Lanka Press Institute, U.S. public diplomacy program alumni, and local content creators will emphasize the critical role of preserving diverse voices for a stable and inclusive Sri Lanka, the statement read further.

Additionally, she will meet with representatives from Sri Lanka’s multifaith community to underscore the importance of societal inclusivity.

Britain’s oldest warship named HMS Trincomalee

The HMS Trincomalee which was constructed in 1817 in Mumbai stands as the Royal Navy’s last ship built in India, boasting over two centuries of history.

According to the National Museum of the Royal Navy, prior to its current mooring in Hartlepool, this illustrious ship sailed more than 100,000 miles worldwide. Remarkably, HMS Trincomalee never engaged in battle but holds a rich narrative of service, ranging from patrol and protection to exploration.

Now anchored in Hartlepool, HMS Trincomalee represents one of the two Leda-Class Frigates commissioned by the Royal Navy in 1812. Its name commemorates the 1782 Battle of Trincomalee off the coast of the Indian subcontinent, the historic clash between British and French fleets during the Anglo-French War (1778-1783).

The choice to build in India was influenced by a scarcity of oak in England, exacerbated by the ongoing Napoleonic Wars, and the strategic location of Bombay.

The ship’s arrival in England, 18 months post-construction, coincided with the end of the wars, making the HMS Trincomalee surplus to the fleet requirement.

Its journey was further delayed when plans aboard the HMS Java were lost after its sinking by the USS Constitution, the oldest still-afloat ship. Consequently, HMS Trincomalee spent 28 years in reserve before being refitted as a 26-gun corvette for patrolling duties in the Atlantic and beyond, including participation in the Crimean War and operations in the Pacific. From 1860, it served as a stationary training and accommodation vessel, continuing in various capacities into the 20th century.

Distinguished from its counterparts by its teak construction, known for durability and resistance to decay, HMS Trincomalee has preserved much of its original framework. Among its notable early passengers was Eliza Bunt, a British resident in India, whose documenting of her journey to London provides invaluable insights into the ship’s history.

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Former Speaker calls for timely polls

The National Movement for Social Justice Chairman Karu Jayasuriya has strongly emphasised that his organisation will vehemently oppose any attempts to postpone the elections.

This assertion was made during a special discussion titled ‘A new electoral system for a strong democratic country’, which was organised by the organisation led by the former Speaker in Colombo earlier this week.

Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, Professor G.L. Peiris, Ranjith Madduma Bandara, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, Sudarshani Fernandopulle, Azath Salley along with other politicians, former Election Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya, and a cohort of professionals and academics participated in this conference.

Jayasuriya reiterated that the stance of his organisation remains unchanged regarding the abolition of the Executive Presidency. However, he emphasised the paramount importance of conducting all elections according to their designated schedules.

Additionally, Jayasuriya stressed that all candidates participating in the upcoming Presidential election must disclose their stance on the office of the Executive President to the nation.

“The President appointed a committee to investigate a new election system last December, and we have submitted our proposals to that committee,” Jayasuriya said.

“I want to stress a crucial point here. We adamantly oppose any postponement of elections. Elections must be conducted as scheduled. Similarly, all candidates vying for the Presidential election must unequivocally disclose their stance on the Executive Presidential system to the nation,” he added.

The Speaker also urged all candidates to disclose a specific date for the abolition of the post if they pledge to do so. “The citizens of this country have the fundamental right to be informed about the stance of each candidate regarding the Executive Presidential system,” Jayasuriya emphasised.

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AKD: JVP-led NPP will not undermine India’s national security

A National People’s Power (NPP) administration will not do anything that will undermine Indian security, but it will maintain economic and political relations with China, the NPP delegation to India told Indian officials, JVP/NPP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake said in an interview with Sirasa TV, on Thursday (15).

In his first interview since his return to the country, Dissanayake said India had extended an invitation to the NPP in December.

“However, we had other commitments in December. One of them was visiting China at the invitation of the Chinese Communist Party. We told India that we maintained full transparency in our external relations.”

The NPP leader said that the incumbent government’s privatisation drive had attracted both Indian and Chinese investors, and that had led to friction between the two major powers.

“The government has decided to privatise Sri Lanka Telecom, and the two main contenders are Chinese and Indian interests. It’s the same with Lanka Hospitals. It is the government that wants Amul to buy NLDB.”

From the J.R. Jayewardene administration onwards, successive governments followed disastrous foreign policies that made Sri Lanka a battleground between major powers, Dissanayake said.

“JRJ beckoned Americans to Sri Lanka, and at that time, India was with Soviet Union (Russia). This angered India. Then, other governments tried to balance China and India by selling each country valuable national assets and giving each country contracts that didn’t adhere to the tender process,” the NPP leader said.

The NPP adheres to a non-aligned foreign policy, Engaging all stakeholders transparently is the key to avoiding misconceptions and triggering hostilities, he said.

States operate in an information-sparse environment, which often leads them to operate on assumptions. The NPP believes in transparency and engagement in foreign and domestic affairs because of that very reason, he said.

“We know that some individuals, who frequently attend Embassy functions, are spreading misinformation about us. On the other hand, we don’t really have the time to attend all these functions. However, in recent months, diplomatic missions have reached out to us because they think we will win elections, and we have used these opportunities to explain what our policies really are.”

The NPP leader said that their political opponents are very worried about their Indian visit because it dispels the narratives they have built about the party.

“One of the claims made was that the NPP has no international connections or standing. Anyone who can think logically can understand that states engage with political actors that have power. India, China, the US, and many others are now engaging with us because they think we will win elections. Some people believed Ranil knew foreign leaders personally and that they would bail the country out. How has that worked out? States act out of strategic considerations. We have said this from the beginning. However, some of our political leaders thought it was a good idea to put a lot of their eggs in the ‘NPP has no international standing’ basket. Now this has been proven obviously wrong, and they are panicking,” he said.

Dissanayake added that they are well aware that the two main parties and their affiliates will do everything in their power to thwart an NPP win.

“This is not like Ranil replacing Mahinda or Ranil replacing Gota. A lot of crooked elements are afraid of us coming into power. They will do anything to stop us, and already we are seeing strange political bedfellows emerging,” he said.

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Iranian Naval Ships arrive in Colombo

The Iranian Naval Ship (IRINS) Bushehr and Tonb arrived at the port of Colombo on a formal visit this morning (16th February 2024). The visiting ships were welcomed by the Sri Lanka Navy in compliance with naval traditions.

IRINS Bushehr is a 107 meter long ship manned by 270 crew members and she is commanded by Commander MAHDI BALVARDI. IRINS Tonb is a 94.94 meter long platform with a crew of 250. It is commanded by Commander MOHAMMAD HAJI ZADEH.

Meanwhile, the Commanding Officers of the ships are scheduled to call on Commander Western Naval Area and Director General Operations of the Navy, during their stay in the country.

Additionally, naval personnel from both nations are anticipated to participate in various programmes aimed at fostering cooperation. Furthermore, the crew members of the Iranian ships will have the opportunity to visit several tourist attractions in Sri Lanka.

Moreover, Officer Cadets and personnel from the Sri Lanka Navy will be able to visit Iranian Naval Ships in Colombo, and reciprocally, Officer Cadets and personnel from the Iranian ships will visit Sri Lanka Naval Ships. The duo of Iranian Naval Ships are scheduled to depart the island on 19th February.

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Sri Lanka to host first-ever Chinese marathon in May

Sri Lanka will host the first-ever Chinese marathon this May, where over 2000-3000 Chinese athletes will arrive under the ‘Ni Hao Zhong Guo’ programme, Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management Chairman Shirantha Peiris announced.

Peiris recently visited the municipality of Chongqing in China to finalise an agreement under the Ni Hao Zhong Guo programme to bring in additional Chinese tourists to Sri Lanka over the next two-year period.

Accordingly, it has been proposed to organise a marathon for the Chinese athletes from May 1 to 3, this year. This is to be followed by a seafood festival organised on the Unwatuna beach strip. Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau Chairman Chalaka Gajabahu revealed plans to make this an annual event.

According to the Ni Hao Zhong Guo programme, Sri Lanka is expected to lure one million tourists over the next two years. Sri Lanka is expected to generate a revenue of Rs.225 billion. However, Peiris noted that two years would be rather ambitious and instead, proposed a four-year period.

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‘Strongly opposed to Indo-Lanka accord,’ confirms JVP

“As a political party we strongly opposed the Indo-Lanka Accord decades ago, and dedicated our initiatives to safeguarding Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, at the cost of many lives,” said Vijitha Herath of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) led National People’s Power (NPP). “This stance has not changed and will not change,” he told reporters in Colombo.

Herath, who recently accompanied party leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake as he toured India last week, said that the party prioritises the national security and territorial integrity of the country at all costs.

“The political situation today is different, the world has changed, and so has global politics,” he said at a media briefing. “Even though we have changed as well, we will not allow ourselves as a nation to be pigeonholed to fit the needs or appease power struggles among other nations.”

He said that his party will engage in politics while ensuring the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity remain intact. “Although we will not hesitate in engaging with other nations on economic pursuits, we will not fall victim to global power dynamics and stay on course to develop and advance our nation,” Herath continued.

The MP emphasised that under NPP governance, his party will deal transparently with other governments and ensure that the nation’s advancements particularly in terms of economic development are priotised. “Throughout the country’s history, we have consistently made decisions to safeguard our territorial integrity, and we stand by that commitment today and in the future. We give our assurance to the people of this country that these principles will not waver.”

The Indo-Lanka Accord was signed in 1987, without any input from Tamil parties, and established the 13th Amendment to Sri Lanka’s constitution which created the system of Provincial Councils, promising greater devolution of land and police powers to a merged North-East. The JVP staged two insurrections against the state in the early 1970s and the late 1980s. The latter of these was chiefly in response to the Indo-Lanka accord and the 13th Amendment which sought to devolve powers to Tamils in the North-East. Tens of thousands were killed. Then leader Rohana Wijeweera framed Tamil demands for self-determination as in-hoc with US imperialist interests in his 1986 book “Solutions for Tamil Eelam Struggle”.

Referring to the discussions over the visit by the leader of the NPP Anura Kumara Dissanayake to India, Herath remarked that this visit was not undertaken hurriedly as cited by other political commentators, stating “this meeting was organized well in advance and we were in India on an invitation by the Indian government over a month ago”.

He further said “India is our closest neighbour”. “Sri Lanka and India have longstanding bilateral and diplomatic relations. It was our intention to strengthen those ties formally through this visit.”

The JVP, which has historically held a frosty view of relregardations with its northern neighbour, has yet to clarify on any policy decisions with regards to Delhi.

In 2015, then-JVP Propaganda Secretary Herath told The Island, “the JVP is against federalism”. Whilst accepting that “the grievances of the Tamil people should be redressed,” Herath reiterated that “federalism is not that solution”. He also spoke out against the merging of the Northern and Eastern provinces, as outlined by the Indo-Lanka accord. “It is the JVP that went before the courts and got an order to demerge the two provinces that had been arbitrarily merged after the Indo-Lanka Accord,” he added, referring to when the JVP filed three separate petitions with the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka calling for the North Eastern Province to be demerged. The Province was formally demerged into the Northern and Eastern provinces on 1 January 2007.

Throughout the armed conflict, the JVP would weaponize the pretence of Marxism to justify their hardline opposition to Tamil demands. In the 2004 parliamentary elections, the JVP became a coalition partner of the United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) and stood opposed to continued peace negotiations with the LTTE; they further rejected the possibility of joint post-tsunami aid distribution, and in 2005 endorsed Mahinda Rajapaksa on a platform specifically opposed to the peace process. In early 2006 the JVP openly promoted a military solution that would culminate in the Mullivaikkal genocide.

During peace talks between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government, the JVP would consistently protest against the ceasefire – slamming international mediation and the concept of granting devolution or autonomy to the Tamil homeland.

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Lankan economists and Indian traders stress benefits of Indo-Lanka land bridge By P.K.Balachandran

In his speech at the seventh Indian Ocean Conference (IOC) in Perth, Australia on February 10, Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe reiterated the plan to build a land bridge between Sri Lanka and India to boost trade and economic integration between the two countries.

He had proposed a bridge across the Palk Strait when he was Prime Minister between 2002 and 2004 and named it the “Hanuman Bridge”. Since then, Wickremesinghe has been advocating economic links between Sri Lanka and the South Indian States particularly, because these are not only nearer Sri Lanka but are growth centres in India.

He would highlight the fact that, collectively, the four South Indian States of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh have a GDP of US$ 500 billion. Sri Lanka could link up with these growing regional economies.

However, despite the favourable conclusion of a feasibility study on a land bridge in the early 2000s, the idea fell by the way side due to political opposition in Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu.

When Wickremesinghe was on visit to India in Jul 2023, he again proposed a land connection between India and the ports of Colombo and Trincomalee. The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi endorsed the idea and the two countries decided to conduct a feasibility study at an early date, the Vision Statement issued in New Delhi said.

“Since then, there have been several indications that both countries are keen to go ahead with the project. Such a bridge will facilitate trade and people-to-people contact,” Wickremesinghe said at the Perth conference which was organized by the India Foundation in collaboration with India’s Ministry of External Affairs and the Australian Government, with support from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore, and the Perth-US Asia Centre.

Land connectivity will help India’s Southern States as well ports on India’s Eastern seaboard like Vishakhapatnam, Kolkata and Chennai. Ships from these ports now have to go around Sri Lanka to reach Colombo, the only major commercial port in Sri Lanka. But if a land link is established with a bridge across the Palk Strait, traders can use road/and rail transport which are cheaper and less time-consuming.

In 2002-2004 Sri Lanka envisaged a four-lane highway with a parallel single rail track that was estimated to cost US$ 1 billion. The Sri Lanka Institution of Engineers and the Indian Institution of Engineers (Tamil Nadu Centre) prepared a Concept Paper which supported the plan. But as stated earlier, it did not get political support from both the Tamil Nadu and the Sri Lankan side.

In June 2015, the Indian Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari proposed building the 23 km bridge with ADB assistance of US$ 2.8 billion as part of the Asian highways project. But Wickremesinghe, who was Prime Minister then, was non-committal. Vasudeva Nanayakkara, a leftist politician, said that if the bridge was built the 60 million Tamils from Tamil Nadu would swamp Lanka.

However, Wickremesinghe now feels that the political climate in Sri Lanka is conducive for closer ties with India, given the significant role India has played in rescuing Sri Lanka from an economic abyss. Till now, no voices have been raised against the proposed ‘land link’.

Support of Experts

Wickremesinghe’s plan has the support from Lankan development experts Gayasha Samarakoon, Muttukrishna Sarvananthan and Prof. Rohan Samarajiva. Samarakoon and Sarvananthan said in a paper published by Routledge, that a land bridge would bring down the transport cost in India-Sri Lanka trade by 50%.

It will also save on time. According to them, the 23 km bridge could be traversed in less than an hour. And from the arrival point at Talaimannar, it would take another 7–8 hours to reach Colombo by road (roughly 367 km). The total travel time between India and Colombo would be 9 hours with a few more hours to accommodate Customs requirements.

They further said the waiting time for Customs clearance and other formalities could also be significantly reduced if the land route was used because the land route would involve only exports/imports to/from India, whereas the Colombo Harbour would be handling trade to and from all over the world.

Lower transport costs would bring down prices of goods in Sri Lanka. An uptick in trade would also create thousands of direct and indirect jobs. The road link with Colombo and Trincomalee would also contribute to the economic development of backward provinces like the Northern Province, the North Central Province and the Eastern Province.

“The business communities in the Northern and North Central Provinces have long complained about their inability to directly engage in international trade. Presently, businesspersons in the Northern and North Central Provinces can engage in export/ import trade only through exporters/importers in Colombo. The proposed bridge would boost direct international trade between the Northern, North-Central, and Eastern regions of Sri Lanka and India, particularly Southern India,” Samarakoon and Sarvananthan said.

Presently, only a small fraction of Indian tourists visits the Northern, North Central, and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka due to the long distance from Colombo, where the only international airport is located. The proposed bridge would boost tourist traffic to these marginalised provinces.

However, the successful realization of this grand vision necessitates concerted efforts to enhance the domestic road networks in Sri Lanka, the authors emphasised. There is a crying need to develop the coastal route from Talaimannar to Colombo through the Wilpattu wildlife sanctuary.

Writing in DailyFT, Rohan Samarajiva ,the founding Chair and CEO of LIRNEasia, an ICT policy and regulation think tank in Colombo, pointed out that Global Production Networks (GPNs) have become increasingly significant in world trade, encompassing developing as well as developed economies. The process of producing goods (and services), from raw materials to finished products is increasingly carried out wherever the necessary skills and materials are available at competitive cost and quality. Sri Lanka should join such networks through Indian hubs. Sri Lankan firms could join the auto agglomerate, electronic components or iPhone industry in Chennai.

Lower transport costs and the time factor that are associated with proximity are a strong influence especially for trade. The fact that this has not happened so far suggests that there may be merit in looking at ways to reduce transportation costs through a bridge connecting Talaimannar and Rameswaram, Samarajiva said.

However, a road link with India to tie up with industries in Tamil Nadu will require the development of the Northern and North Western provinces, he added.

“If Sri Lanka is to fully realise the benefits of integration with automotive, electronic or other supply chains, it may be necessary to create export processing zones with good access to the bridge in the Northern and North Central Provinces. Such zones require access to pools of human resources and the amenities to support the workers and their families,” he said. All this will lead to the development of these areas.

Traders’ Voice

Representatives of Indian companies who exhibited their products at the Jaffna International Trade Fair in January 2017 were unanimously of the view that for the development and trade and investment between India and the Northern Province of Sri Lanka, the construction of a road linking Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu with Thalaiamannar in North Sri Lanka is a must.

“Having to land our goods at Colombo in the south, we take another eight hours to reach Jaffna in the far North. The long journey puts investors and traders off. It will help if we are able to go by road from Rameswaram to Thalaimannar across Palk Strait and thence to Jaffna,” explained Amandeep Azad of Azad Engineering Company based in Ghaziabad near Delhi.

“The other advantage in having a direct road link with India is that it will eliminate the Colombo-based middle men. This will bring down prices in the Jaffna market,” Azad added.

According to Jaffna trade sources, more than 40% of the goods sold in the Jaffna market are from South India. These will be cheaper of there is a road link, they said.

Harin is Ranil’s campaign manager & Ravi K. convener of UNP-led alliance

President Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday (14) met the UNP management committee and made several appointments.

Main among them is the appointment of Ravi Karunanayake as the convenor of a new UNP-led alliance.

A week ago, state-run ‘Silumina’ reported the position has gone to Bank of Ceylon chairman Ronald Perera.

Now, Perera will be based at Sirikotha as in-charge of the UNP campaign.

President’s counsel Mahinda Haradas gets financial affairs.

But, there are no appointment letters for any of them

(lankatruth.com)

Ex-President Sirisena calls on top official of US State Dept.

Former President Maithripala Sirisena has called on Afreen Akhter, the Deputy Assistant Secretary to the Bureau of South Central Asian Affairs of the US State Department in Washington DC.

During the encounter, the former Sri Lankan leader exchanged views with Akhter on further strengthening bilateral relations between the two countries.

The two sides also discussed the island nation’s political situation at length.

Sirisena expressed his gratitude to the United States for the continued support extended to Sri Lanka.

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