Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said on Saturday that while other countries are “friends” of the island nation, India is a “relation”. He made the remark during an interview with the Hindustan Times, while on his first visit to India since becoming the prime minister last year.
Asked about the visits of the Pakistani Navy and Air Force chiefs to Sri Lanka, and Pakistan’s insistence that the island country condemn India’s move to abrogate the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, Rajapaksa said: “Look, whatever the view of any country, we will not get involved in the internal matters of India. But remember this: I always say India is a relation. Others are friends.”
Asked how Sri Lanka can discuss terrorism with Pakistan, which India considers to be the epicentre of terror, Rajapaksa said both Pakistan and India helped his country to end the 30-year-long civil war against the Liberation of Tamil Tigers Eelam. “Pakistan gave us weapons and planes,” he said. “India too helped, but didn’t want to publicise it at the time. Why, without India’s help, I don’t think we would have won that war.”
The Sri Lankan security forces destroyed the LTTE and killed its leader V Prabhakaran in 2009.
“Whether Islamist terrorism or another kind, we must have some form of cooperation with India,” Rajapaksa said. “We must exchange views and information. Prior to the Easter suicide bomb attacks in Colombo last April, India shared warnings and intelligence, even on the morning of the attacks itself. But our previous government didn’t take them seriously.”
On Saturday, Rajapaksa thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for visiting Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the Easter attacks in April last year, ANI reported. Over 250 people were killed in the attacks, attributed to the Islamic State terrorist group.
Rajapaksa met Modi on Saturday and thanked him for the Indian government’s “neighbourhood first” policy and the priority India gives to Sri Lanka. “We had agreed that our cooperation is multifaceted and priority is given to a number of areas including security, economy, culture and social sectors,” he said. “Part of our discussions centered on cooperation with regard to the security of the two countries. India has always assisted Sri Lanka to enhance our capacity, capabilities in intelligence and counter-terrorism.”
The Sri Lankan prime minister also said his country appreciates India’s $400-million line of credit to enhance the economy of the island country and another $50 million for fighting terrorism. Rajapaksa asked Modi to consider further assistance to expand housing projects all over Sri Lanka.
The two prime ministers also discussed problems related to Sri Lanka’s Tamil community, NDTV reported. Modi said he was confident that the Sri Lankan government will realise the expectations of the Tamils for equality, justice, peace and respect within a united Sri Lanka.
“Both @PresRajapaksa and I agreed that people-to-people relations can be made even stronger between our nations,” Modi tweeted on Saturday. “This includes boosting connectivity. There were also discussions on well being of fishermen as it impacts people from both our countries.”