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India expands presence in Sri Lanka

world Updated: Aug 21, 2010 01:16 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times
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India will soon have the widest network of diplomatic missions in Sri Lanka including one in the far south where China is rapidly completing a port on the strategic west-east Indian Ocean sea corridor.

On Friday, the two countries formalised an agreement reached in June in New Delhi between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and visiting President Mahinda Rajapaksa to allow India to open new consulates in Jaffna in the north and at Hambantota in South.

India would be the first to open consulates in both the places.

Besides a large High Commission in Colombo – the biggest Indian mission after the one in Kathmandu -- India also has an Assistant High Commission in Kandy to cater to the needs of the Indian-origin Tamils who live in the central hill districts.

Tamil majority Jaffna has had historical links with parts of southern India and many from the peninsula continue to visit India. A visa processing centre is already functioning from Jaffna town.

The consulate in Hambantota, Rajapaksa's home district, is being looked upon as India's efforts to keep track of developments in the arid southern regions.

Hambantota, around 260 km south-east of Colombo, is where China is building a port and would follow it up with an airport. The three-phase port project is by far one of the biggest Chinese projects in Sri Lanka and is worth $ 1.5 billion.

On Friday, an Exchange of Notes – formalising what was agreed between Singh and Rajapaksa – took place between Indian High Commissioner Ashok K Kantha and Lankan foreign secretary, CR Jayasinghe on the two consulates.

It was agreed that the jurisdiction of the Jaffna consulate would cover the five northern districts Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, Vavuniya and Mannar – among the districts which bore the brunt of the war with the Tamil Tigers in the last phase.

The Hambantota consulate will cover the districts of Galle, Matara, Hambantota and Moneragala.

As a measure of reciprocity, India has also welcomed Sri Lanka's interest in opening a third diplomatic post in India after New Delhi and Chennai.