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India-Sri Lanka ties vital for both countries: Gotabhaya Rajapaksa

COLOMBO: India and Sri Lanka should retain "meaningful and close" bilateral ties despite occasional hiccups, including the issue of fishermen, Defence SecretaryGotabhaya Rajapaksa said today. 

Addressing a seminar titled 'Post Conflict Sri Lanka Challenges and Regional Stability' here, Rajapaksa said India is very sensitive to events in Sri Lanka because of the large Tamil population in Tamil Nadu. 

"It is critical that both countries retain a meaningful and close relationship despite the issues that sometimes arise between them," the powerful Sri Lankan defence secretary said. 

"Particularly during elections, Sri Lanka figures large in Indian power politics. In addition, there are certain bilateral issues that occasionally strain the usually sound relationship between the two nations: for example, the increasing incidence of illegal fishing by Tamil Nadu fishermen in Sri Lankan waters." 

Commenting on the growing China-Sri Lanka nexus, the younger brother of President
Mahinda Rajapaksa said Colombo's cordial relationship with Beijing has become an issue for other countries because of misperceptions about the nature of China's influence here. 

"It is important to understand that China's involvement in Sri Lanka is purely diplomatic and economic. China has been one of Sri Lanka's foremost development partners for many years, and it has contributed richly to many of Sri Lanka's key economic development projects. 

However, this involvement has been misinterpreted to mean that China has undue influence. For its part, the Sri Lankan Government has been very clear that its relationship with China is not a threat to any other nation," Rajapaksa asserted. 

On immediate security challenges for Sri Lanka, the defence secretary said attempts by the extremist elements to promote Muslim extremism was a cause for concern. 

"It has been observed that there are some foreign groups that wish to encourage Sri Lankan Muslims to identify themselves more with the global Muslim community, thereby reducing their integration with the rest of the population." 

Rajapaksa said threat of re-emergence of terrorism was still a threat. Several overseas based LTTE-linked groups are being coordinated by the Global Tamils Forum. 

"Their intention is the division of Sri Lanka and the establishment of a separate state for Tamil Eelam. There are several strategies through which they will try to achieve their objective." 

He said the last week's visit of UN 
Human Rights High Commissioner Navi Pillay was another instance of the LTTE's attracting of international attention to their cause. Pillay after a week long visit slammed Sri Lanka as a state which was increasingly heading towards authoritarianism.