NEW DELHI: Moving fast, the new Sri Lankan government will make their first foreign visit very soon, with newly appointed foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera arriving in New Delhi for the initial contact on January 18.
The invitation had been forwarded, both verbally and written, by external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj on Monday night. “The invitation has now been accepted. Mr. Samaraweera has decided to visit India, his first overseas visit as Foreign Minister, for discussions with Smt. Swaraj on 18 January,” said official sources on Tuesday.
The news about the acceptance was also tweeted by the external affairs ministry spokesperson early Tuesday morning. “First visit…In response to Minister Sushma Swaraj's invitation, Sri Lanka's External Affairs Minister Mangala Samarweera to visit India on 18th January,” Syed Akbaruddin posted on his twitter account.
Samaraweera, who had been a foreign minister earlier for two years between 2005 and 2007 under the Mahinda Rajapaksa government. After he was sacked, he left the ruling party to form his own political group, which later merged with opposition UNP.
He was sworn in Colombo on Monday evening along with the rest of the cabinet. “Congratulations to my friend Mr Mangala Samaraweera on his appointment as foreign minister of sri lanka,” tweeted Swaraj just a few hours later.
A few minutes later, MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin posted on his twitter account that EAM had spoken on phone to her new Lankan counterpart and invited him to India.
Earlier, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also invited the new Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena to visit India soon. The new government in Colombo has indicated that it would like to make India as the first foreign destination of Sirisena.
Staging a upset, Sirisena won the presidential elections with a margin of 51.28 percent, against Mahinda Rajapaksa’s 47.58 percent who was standing for a third term. Sirisena was earlier the health minister in the Rajapaksa regime, before he became the common opposition candidate.
During the election, the opposition had made some noises that Sri Lanka had become too aligned with China, with contracts of big projects and Chinese submarines making frequent port visits. This led to expectation in some quarters in India that the balance has now shifted towards India with Sirisena as the President, but informed observers opine that it would be more realistic to have tempered hopes on this front.
India is certainly expected to raise the issue of reconciliation process with the Sri Lankan tamils during Samaraweera’s visit. Incidentally, the high turnout in the north and east, compared to the 2009 elections, coupled with an extremely good showing by Sirisena, did propel him towards victory.
At the same time, Sirisena has not really spoken about the implementation of the 13th amendment during the campaign period and maintained that army troops will not leave their bases in the northern province.