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Indian Foreign Minister Hopes to Build Closer Ties During Sri Lanka Visit

Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna (file photo)

Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna (file photo)

India's foreign minister is visiting Sri Lanka to build closer ties with a country where New Delhi wants to offset growing Chinese influence. The trip will focus on India's involvement in the reconstruction of the nation where a civil war ended last year.

During his four-day visit to Sri Lanka, S.M. Krishna will open two new Indian consulates. One is at Hambantota in the south, and the other in Jaffna, the northern town that was devastated by a quarter-century of civil war.

Current projects

The Indian minister also will inaugurate a housing project for ethnic Tamils displaced by the war, and a rail link that New Delhi is helping to rebuild. India has promised to construct 50,000 homes, rebuild an airport and railway lines damaged during the separatist struggle waged by the Tamil Tigers.

Officials in India say that New Delhi wants to be closely involved with Sri Lanka's post-war development as it seeks to boost ties with its neighbor.

Chinese influence

China is already involved in several infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka, the biggest being the construction of a port at Hambantota.

A former Indian foreign secretary, Lalit Mansingh, says the growing Chinese presence in Sri Lanka concerns New Delhi.

"Sri Lanka is particularly important as it is on the southern tip of India situated along the Indian Ocean, which is now emerging as such a vital area for India's security," noted Mansingh. "Chinese presence in Sri Lanka is something our strategic planners are looking at very carefully."

During his meetings with top Sri Lankan officials, the Indian foreign minister is also expected to urge Colombo to reach a political settlement with the minority Tamil community.

Defense strategy

Foreign policy analysts say the two sides may also discuss the possibility of starting a defense dialogue next year. India, which has a large Tamil community, did not supply lethal weaponry to Colombo during its war with the Tamil rebels.

Mansingh says that could change.

"Now that the civil war is over, India will enter into a phase of normal relations with Sri Lanka and that would imply a military relationship; sale of weaponry, that would be no problem," Mansingh said.

The countries will also discuss deepening their economic engagement and trade. The Sri Lankan president has said that reviving the nation's economy is his top priority since the end of the civil war.