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Pak, Lankan Presidents discuss bilateral ties

Mahinda met Musharraf for talks on cementing better ties in defence, trade and other areas.

india Updated: Apr 01, 2006 15:20 IST

Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa met with his Pakistani counterpart on Friday for talks on cementing better ties in defence, trade and other areas, officials said.

Rajapakse met with President Gen Pervez Musharraf hours after arriving in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, on a three-day visit.

He was received by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. Pakistan and Sri Lanka are members of the seven-nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, or SAARC.

The two sides on Friday signed agreements on tourism, culture, railways and education, state-run Pakistan Television reported.

It said Musharraf thanked Rajapaksa for quickly sending relief teams to Pakistan after the October 8 quake that killed about 80,000 people and left over three million homeless in northern Pakistan and its part of Kashmir.

It also quoted Musharraf as saying that the SAARC members should resolve their bilateral disputes "to pave the way for friction-free relationship."

He apprised the Sri Lankan leader about the continuing peace process between Pakistan and neighbouring India, and said he hoped that the resumption of peace talks between Sri Lanka and Tamil Tiger rebels will help achieve peace and stability there.

Although no other details about Rajapaksa's meeting with Musharraf were immediately available, analysts have said the Sri Lankan leader could be looking to Pakistan to arm his country's ill-equipped military, which faces the threat of a resurgent separatist war with Tamil Tiger rebels.

Lucian Rajakarunanayake, a director at the Sri Lankan president's media office, described Pakistan as a "trusted friend of Sri Lanka for decades."

"Pakistan has helped Sri Lanka at a crucial moment with regard to the war of separation. Sri Lanka would look forward to a continued assistance in the same manner," Rajakarunanayake told the agency.

Pakistan was among the countries that provided emergency military assistance to Sri Lanka when the rebels came close to capturing Jaffna, in the Tamil heartland, in 2000.

They were eventually beaten back by the Sri Lankan military, rearmed with Pakistani weapons.

Pakistani diplomats based in Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo, said Islamabad was open to discussing a weapons deal.

The Tamil Tigers began fighting in 1983 for a separate state for minority ethnic Tamils in Sri Lanka's northeast, claiming discrimination by the country's Sinhalese majority. The conflict took an estimated 65,000 lives until a cease-fire in 2002. The truce has come under severe strain due to spiralling violence.

More than 166 people, including 87 government security personnel, have been killed since December.

Both sides agreed in Geneva, Switzerland last month to scale down the violence and meet again for talks in April.