Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit former LTTE-stronghold Jaffna in Sri Lanka’s Tamil-dominated north and address the Parliament here during his three-day visit to the country next week.
“The Indian Prime Minister will visit Jaffna and later address the Sri Lankan parliament too,” Sri Lankan Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne told reporters here today.
Modi will be the first Indian Prime Minister and the second head of state after Britain’s Premier David Cameron to visit Jaffna. Cameron visited Jaffna in November 2013.
India has undertaken infrastructure development projects including building of 50,000 homes in former conflict zones.
Modi will also be the fourth Indian Premier after Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Morarji Desai to address the Sri Lankan Parliament. The last time an Indian Prime Minister addressed the Sri Lankan Parliament was in 1979 when then Premier Desai visited the country.
During his Sri Lanka visit, the first by an Indian Prime Minister in more than 25 years, Modi will arrive in Colombo on March 13 and apart from Jaffna, he will also visit the sacred city of Anuradhapura, a holy site for the Buddhists.
The visit comes within a month of new Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena’s India trip last month that saw the two countries sign a civil nuclear pact.
This was Sirisena’s first foreign visit after assuming charge following a bitter presidential poll in which he defeated strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa, ending his 10-year rule.
Analysts see the high-level exchange of visits as a sign of growing amity between the two neighbours and a shift in Colombo’s policy that was heavily pro-China under the previous administration.
Today’s announcement of Modi’s Jaffna visit comes amid Sri Lankan government’s decision to temporarily suspended work on the construction of a controversial USD 1.5 billion Chinese port city project here.
President Sirisena has pledged to pursue a more global foreign policy in a break from his predecessor Rajapaksa’s pursuit of close ties with China, a key supporter of Sri Lanka’s economy since its 26-year civil war ended in 2009.
India’s ties with Sri Lanka had taken a hit during former president Rajapaksa’s rule as China had expanded its footprint in the country by building ports, highways and participating in other infrastructure projects.
The previous bilateral visit to Sri Lanka by an Indian Prime Minister was in 1987, when Rajiv Gandhi travelled to Colombo to sign the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord with the then Sri Lankan President J R Jayewardene.