The Web Sri Lanka In Focus

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Sri Lanka Army chief to pay six-day visit to India

Sri Lanka's army chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, who has vowed to crush the Tamil Tigers, will pay a six-day visit to India from Sunday to deepen military cooperation between the two countries.

Details of Fonseka's programme have not been divulged, apparently over security considerations. The defence ministry has only said that he will briefly interact with the Indian Army here Tuesday.

He will also lay a wreath at the memorial to the Unknown Soldier at India Gate, a World War I monument, after which he will be presented a guard of honour at the defence ministry headquarters at South Block.

Fonseka, along with Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa, leads a no-holds-barred military campaign against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and has vowed to defeat the rebels at the earliest.

He is one of Sri Lanka's most protected figures, more so after the LTTE came close to assassinating him in April last year. He survived but had to spend many months in hospital, in Sri Lanka and abroad, before resuming work.

Military officials here told IANS ahead of Fonseka's visit that they did not want the Sri Lanka Army to slacken its drive against the LTTE, which is outlawed in India.

"India is closely engaged with Sri Lanka on two fronts," one official said. "It wants to ensure that the Sri Lanka Army maintains its upper hand over the LTTE. At the same time, Sri Lanka needs to come out with a devolution package that is acceptable to the minorities.

"India does not want to see the Sri Lanka Army losing its grip over the rebels. At the same time, there is no question of Indian military intervention beyond providing non-lethal hardware," the official added.

Towards this end, the official pointed out, the Indian and Sri Lankan navies had been conducting coordinated patrols in the narrow sea dividing the two countries. New Delhi also shares intelligence on LTTE activities with Colombo.

Thousands have been killed in fighting between the LTTE and the military in recent years.

As fighting has escalated, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has increased its surveillance over south India and is planning to conduct a series of exercises in the region this year.

Fonseka is sure to discuss military cooperation with India, which has become a touchy issue in bilateral relations.

Sri Lanka has been increasing looking at China and Pakistan for weapons supplies. Although India supplies only non-lethal military items to Sri Lanka, it provides training to Sri Lankan soldiers.

Sri Lankan leaders say they keep India informed about arms purchases from other countries.