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Sri Lanka PM Wickremasinghe gives his word on oil tanker deal ahead of PM Modi’s visit

4fa2cbNEW DELHI: In what could be a shot in arm for India ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Sri Lanka later this week, Colombo has said that it will lease out oil tanks to India under the proposed deal to jointly operate a strategic oil facility in the country’s eastern port of Trincomalee. Addressing a gathering in the central town of Welimada over the weekend, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe said the joint working group of the two countries will formulate investment plans for the integrated development of Trincomalee. “Japan may also join in Trincomalee’s development,” Wickremesinghe said. Seeking to dispel fears that his government is selling state assets to India, China, the US and Japan, he said. “We are going to cater to the oil demand in India by leasing tanks.” Workers of Sri Lanka’s state-run petroleum company last month held a strike to protest against the proposed deal with India to jointly operate the strategic oil facility. They, however, ended it after an assurance from Wickremesinghe that he won’t sign any pact on the World War IIera oil tanks during his India visit. At least 73 of the 99 storage tanks in Trincomalee are to be managed under a new equity arrangement between India and Lanka. In 2002, the Indian Oil Company was given 14 of the 99 tanks to operate. Sri Lanka and India had signed an MoU on comprehensive economic co-operation agreement that also includes India-assisted projects in the island nations when Wickremesinghe was here last month. Officials here emphasised that India has never imposed either any project or ideas over its partners, including neighbours, and respects local sentiments while executing them. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had opposed the oil-related deal, and has now accused the Lankan government of selling state assets. Modi is scheduled to visit Sri Lanka on May 11-12 to take part in the UN ‘Vesak Day’ which commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha. He will also tarvel to Kandy to open a hospital and address plantation Tamils there. The Opposition claims that Modi will sign the oil tank deal during his visit despite President Maithripala Sirisena rubbishing it as misinformation. Modi would only attend the UN ‘Vesak Day’ celebrations and no bilateral agreements will be signed during his visit to Lanka, President Sirisena had said. Incidentally, Modi will visit Lanka ahead of the conference on One Belt One Road (OBOR) organised by China on May 14-15.India and Japan are hoping to jointly upgrade the strategically located Trincomalee Port in Eastern Sri Lanka that could become the transhipment hub in the region amid growing Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean Region. Sri Lanka and India are expected to sign an agreement to jointly invest and develop the Trincomalee Port and establish a petroleum refinery and other industries there.

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