COLOMBO: India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an unexpected visit yesterday to a Colombo church bombed during the Easter suicide attacks on his first trip to neighboring Sri Lanka since his election triumph. Modi’s cavalcade made a detour to St Anthony’s shrine on the way to President Maithripala Sirisena’s seafront office in the capital, where a red carpet military parade awaited. “I am confident Sri Lanka will rise again,” Modi said on Twitter where he posted photos of himself at the church. “Cowardly acts of terror cannot defeat the spirit of Sri Lanka. India stands in solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka.”
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who received Modi at Colombo’s airport, said the two of discussed ways to combat militant attacks like the assault on the three hotels and three churches which left 258 dead and 500 injured. “The two leaders discussed the collective steps to stamp out international terrorism,” Wickremesinghe’s office said in a statement. It added that the two leaders held most of their talks in Modi’s limousine while driving the 33 km between the capital and the airport. Modi stopped in Colombo on his return from an official visit to the Maldives, where he inaugurated a radar system and military training center. The two projects, costing $26 million, were funded by India.
His brief but politically significant visit to the two neighbors came less than 10 days after Modi secured a second landslide election win and as New Delhi seeks to fend off Chinese influence in the region. The Maldives, an archipelago of more than 1,000 tiny coral islands, and Sri Lanka straddle the world’s busiest east-west maritime route. India, the traditional ally of both Sri Lanka and the Maldives, had watched with unease as former governments of strongman leader Abdulla Yameen in the Maldives and Sri Lanka’s Mahinda Rajapakse leaned towards Beijing for political and financial support.
Yameen’s election loss last September, however, has seen new leader President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih swing back towards New India. Sri Lanka too has moved back toward New Delhi since the defeat of Rajapakse in Jan 2015. Last month, authorities announced a partnership with India and Japan to develop a deep-sea container terminal in Colombo next to a controversial $500-million Chinese-run facility. The three plan to develop what is known as the East Terminal of Colombo port.
China owns 85 percent of the adjoining Colombo International Container Terminal, which was commissioned in 2013. State-owned Sri Lanka Ports Authority owns the remaining 15 percent. More than two thirds of transhipment containers handled in Colombo originate from or head to India. Sri Lanka, unable to repay a huge Chinese loan, handed over another deep-sea port in the south of the island to a Beijing company in Dec 2017, in a deal that raised concerns at home and abroad. – AFP