India tells Lanka to honour Colombo port deal, takes up killing of Tamil fishermen

NEW DELHI: India on Wednesday made it clear that it wants Sri Lanka to honour their pact to develop the Eastern Container Terminal at the Colombo port after Lanka cancelled the deal, allegedly under Chinese pressure.

New Delhi also simultaneously upped the ante on killing of Tamil fishermen by the Lankan navy.

“We have taken it (deaths of four fishermen from Tamil Nadu in the island nation) up in strongest terms with the Sri Lankan government and this particular incident I think was particularly unacceptable and that has been made very very clear to them,” external affairs minister S Jaishankar said in the Rajya Sabha.

Meanwhile, Indian officials in Colombo have strongly conveyed to the Mahinda Rajapaksa government that India expects it to honour the Eastern Container Terminal (ECT) pact with India and Japan as a commitment to international agreement.

ECT, one of the deep sea terminals at Colombo port, is strategically located close to Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT) run by China, and there are allegations that China had been backing local protests against the project to sabotage India’s participation in its development, people familiar with the development said.

The Sri Lankan cabinet had on Monday decided to develop the strategic terminal on its own, reneging on a 2019 trilateral agreement amid continuous pressure from port workers not to award the terminal to India and to stay away from geopolitics.

Colombo-based sources pointed out to ET that port workers did not protest when Lanka offered mega projects at the port to China. Also, there was no proper environmental impact assessment of the $1.4-billion Port city project being implemented by China, they said.

A Lankan cabinet memorandum on October 22, 2020, had said it had decided to award ECT to Adani Group and a Japanese organisation in a joint venture. But work could not be started due to protests by port workers.

Currently, 80% of transhipment cargo at Colombo port is from India.

The Rajapaksa government has gone defensive about its decision to scrap the ECT deal with India, and looks to offer West Container Terminal of the Colombo port to New Delhi for development.

Cabinet co-spokesman Ramesh Pathirana on Tuesday said Sri Lanka respects its close relationship with India and that it will look to negotiate and reach a settlement with India on the ECT issue.

Ports and shipping minister Rohitha Abeygunawardena earlier this week said a cabinet sub-committee has been appointed to discuss the new proposal with India.

Cabinet co-spokesman Udaya Gammanpila said the cabinet decided to ensure Sri Lanka has full control of ECT because the terminal is strategically important for Sri Lanka.

The decision to award the ECT to Adani Group had come after foreign minister S Jaishankar visited Sri Lanka recently.


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