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Opinion

India and Sri Lanka Seek Post-Covid Cooperation, Says Jaishankar

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Stating that the coronavirus pandemic has not affected the bilateral relationship between India and Sri Lanka, Foreign Minister S Jaishankar said on Wednesday that the two countries are now seeking post-Covid cooperation.

In a joint press conference with his Sri Lankan counterpart, Dinesh Gunawardena, Jaishankar said that the Covid pandemic has given the two sides an opportunity to work even more closely.

“It has not affected our bilateral cooperation, but the virtual summit between our prime ministers was the watermark of our relationship last year,” he said, referring to the virtual summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his counterpart Lankan Mahinda Rajapaksa in September.

“We are now considering post-Covid cooperation and I carry with me Sri Lanka’s interest in accessing vaccines from India,” he said.

Sri Lankan leaders formally requested India’s assistance in obtaining the Covid vaccine during meetings with Jaishankar in Colombo.

Jaishankar is visiting Colombo more than three months after the two prime ministers held the virtual summit during which the two sides agreed to further expand ties in a variety of areas such as counter-terrorism cooperation, maritime security and trade and the investment.

He also spoke about the need to ensure that the aspirations of the Tamil minority are addressed within a united Sri Lanka.

“India has been firmly committed to the unity, stability and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. Our support for the reconciliation process in Sri Lanka is long-standing, as indeed for an inclusive political perspective that fosters ethnic harmony, ”he said.

He also stressed the importance of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

Jaishankar, who had met with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his counterpart Gunawardena before the press conference and was expected to meet with Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda, said he looked forward to the soon return of the Indian fishermen detained in Lanka.

“We look forward to the soon return of our Sri Lankan fishermen,” said Jaishankar. Indian fishermen, detained in Sri Lanka for alleged poaching in its territorial waters, received consular assistance from the Indian Consulate General in Jaffna last week.

The high commission said it was in contact with the Sri Lankan government to facilitate the early release of the detained fishermen.

India and Sri Lanka held a meeting of the joint working group on fisheries last week via video conference and discussed issues related to fishermen and ways to overcome the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Fishermen in both countries are frequently arrested for inadvertently trespassing on each other’s waters. For his part, the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister expressed his deep gratitude to Prime Minister Modi and the Government of India for the tremendous support that India provided in recent months to mitigate the adverse impact of the Covid pandemic.

“India’s Neighborhood First Policy has had a positive impact on the health sector and the economy during this period of unprecedented crisis,” said Gunawardena.

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