Asserting that the coronavirus pandemic has not dented the bilateral relationship between India and Sri Lanka, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said on Wednesday that the two countries are now looking at post-Covid cooperation.
Speaking at a joint media briefing with his Sri Lankan counterpart Dinesh Gunawardena, Jaishankar said the Covid pandemic has given the two sides an opportunity to work even more closely together.
“It hasn’t dented 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 Lankan counterpart Mahinda Rajapaksa in September.
“We are now looking at post-Covid cooperation and I carry back with me Sri Lanka’s interest in accessing vaccines from India,” he said.
Sri Lankan leadership formally requested Indian assistance to obtain the Covid vaccine during meetings with Jaishankar in Colombo.
Jaishankar is visiting Colombo over three months after the two prime ministers held the virtual summit during which the two sides agreed to further expand ties in a range of areas such as anti-terror cooperation, maritime security and trade and investment.
He also spoke on the need to ensure aspirations of the minority Tamils are addressed within a united Sri Lanka.
“India has been strongly 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 outlook that encourages ethnic harmony,” he said.
He also emphasised on the importance of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
Jaishankar, who had met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his counterpart Gunawardena before the press conference and was expected to meet with the minister of fisheries Douglas Devananda, said he was looking forward to the early return of Indian fishermen detained in Lanka.
“We look forward to the early return of our fishermen from Sri Lanka,” Jaishankar said. Indian fishermen, apprehended in Sri Lanka for allegedly poaching in its territorial waters, were provided consular assistance by the Consulate General of India in Jaffna last week.
The high commission said it was in touch with the Sri Lankan Government to facilitate the early release of the detained fishermen.
India and Sri Lanka last week held through video conferencing a meeting of the joint working group on fisheries and discussed the issues related to fishermen and the ways to overcome challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Fishermen from both countries are arrested frequently for inadvertently trespassing into each other’s waters. On his part, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister conveyed profound gratitude to Prime Minister Modi and the Indian government for the tremendous support India extended in the past several months to mitigate the adverse impact of the Covid pandemic.
“India’s Neighbourhood First Policy has made a positive impact on the health sector and economy during this period of unprecedented crisis,” Gunawardena said.