External Affairs

“Even If SAARC Falls Apart, Cross-Border Terrorism Will Continue”: Sri Lankan PM

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Credit: Reuters

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Credit: Reuters

New Delhi: Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe called for salvaging SAARC, even as he added that the South Asian regional body needs to address the issue of “cross border terrorism”.

“Even if SAARC falls apart, cross-border terrorism will continue,” he told a hall filled with foreign and Indian media representatives at the Sri Lankan high commission. Wickremesinghe addressed the media after a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday afternoon.

He indicated that discussions on SAARC’s future featured prominently in his talks with Modi. The SAARC summit, scheduled to be held in Islamabad in November, has been postponed indefinitely after India, Afghanistan, Bhutan and Bangladesh withdrew from the summit. On September 27, they told the chair, Nepal that the environment was not conducive for meeting, referring to cross-border terrorism . Sri Lanka joined the chorus about the inhospitable environment three days later, but did not name Pakistan explicitly in its statement.

When asked why Sri Lanka was not in the first group of countries,Wickremesinghe pointed out that the Sri Lankan foreign minister was out of the country and issuing a statement without his presence would have led to questions in parliament.

He added, “For both Afghanistan and Bangladesh, it was a matter of internal security. It is not a matter of internal security for us.”

“I hope [the] current predicament will be an eye-opener to rethink and reconsider issues of peace and security in [the] region,” said Wickremesinghe.

He noted that “cross-border terrorism” was now definitely “on the table” of topics to be discussed by the South Asian body.

“SAARC has to really decide on two things – cross border terrorism wherever it happens in [the] region and [to] find areas in which we can work together,” he said.

The veteran Sri Lankan politician said that Modi and him agreed that cross border terrorism should be ended and that the South Asian region should be made relevant.

“I have seen war. I have seen terrorism. I have seen what terrorism has done in Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan,” he said, adding that “war was not option”.

Wickremesinghe said that he would “compliment Prime Minister Modi for the approach that he has taken”, even as he seemed to hint that India should maintain its restrained position.

He also refused to get drawn into giving his opinion on India conducting surgical strikes the surgical strikes on terror ‘launchpads’ in Pakistan’s territory. “I cannot tell you what I spoke to Prime Minister Modi,” he stressed.

He reiterated that as a Sri Lankan, he understood what India was going through during this period. “I do believe that this is a very crucial time for India,” he said.

On the issue of fishermen,Wickremesinghe said that the fishermen will hold a meeting in November.

When a scribe pointed out that it is an issue concerning livelihood in Tamil Nadu, Wickremesinghe replied, “Why don’t you come to Sri Lanka and speak to fishermen in Jaffna. They are shouting at me that I am not listening,” he added.

Wickremesinghe also addressed the question of China’s profile in Sri Lanka. He assured the media that the Colombo port city  and Hambantota “were strictly economic projects”, with no military component.

“But, what we are talking with India are much bigger projects,” he said, adding that the Economic and Technology Co-operation Agreement (ETCA) with India would be finalised by the end of this year.