India, Maldives, Sri Lanka to step up intelligence-sharing to fight terror
India, the Maldives and Sri Lanka agreed on Saturday to enhance intelligence-sharing to tackle common threats such as terrorism, drug trafficking and money laundering as the three countries revived their maritime security cooperation dialogue after a gap of six years.
The meeting in Colombo, attended by India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, Maldives’ defence minister Mariya Didi and Sri Lanka’s defence secretary Kamal Gunaratne, also decided that working groups at the level of deputy NSAs will meet twice a year to bolster cooperation at the operational level.
The dialogue, which was suspended after India’s relations with the Maldives soured under the previous Abdulla Yameen regime, was held against the backdrop of China’s growing assertiveness in the Indian Ocean and the India-China border standoff. New Delhi has focused on shoring up security linkages with key neighbours in recent months.
A joint statement issued after the dialogue said the three sides exchanged views on common security threats and “agreed to broad base cooperation by expanding the scope to improve intelligence-sharing and include issues like terrorism, radicalisation, extremism, drugs, arms and human trafficking, money laundering, cybersecurity and effect of climate change on the maritime environment”.
The representatives of the three sides also agreed to meet regularly for discussions and to ensure timely implementation of decisions made at the meeting. They also decided to hold deputy NSA-level working group meetings “biannually for cooperation at the operational level”.
The trilateral maritime security cooperation dialogue was launched with a meeting in Male in 2011. Two more meetings were held in Colombo in 2013 and New Delhi in 2014. Mauritius and Seychelles were represented virtually at Saturday’s meeting.
While noting the forum’s significance in promoting cooperation in the Indian Ocean region on common issues related to maritime security, the three sides also reviewed the maritime security environment and discussed cooperation in areas such as maritime domain awareness, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, joint exercises, maritime threats and marine pollution. “They agreed to further strengthen cooperation in dealing with these challenges, to ensure peace and security in the region for common benefit,” the joint statement said.
Doval also held bilateral meetings with the Maldives’ defence minister and Sri Lanka’s defence secretary. At his meeting with Gunaratne on Friday, Doval discussed a collaborative mechanism to enhance maritime cooperation, intelligence-sharing and capacity building, as well as ways to curb drug smuggling and responding to natural calamities.
In September, India provided a Dornier maritime surveillance aircraft to the Maldives National Defence Force (MDNF), which is expected to boost efforts to keep a closer watch on the movement of Chinese vessels in regional waters. During Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s visit to New Delhi in November last year, India offered Sri Lanka a line of credit of $50 million to fight terrorism and enhance intelligence gathering in the wake of the Easter Sunday suicide attacks by Islamic State-linked terrorists that killed 258 people.
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