Sri Lanka Army chief visits Kashmir

March 3rd, 2008 - 7:28 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Bodh Gaya

New Delhi, March 3 (IANS) Sri Lanka’s army chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka Monday visited Jammu and Kashmir at the start of a weeklong visit to India during which he will interact with Defence Minister A.K. Antony and top officials. Fonseka, who arrived here Sunday, travelled to Srinagar and from there to the Tanghar sector where he was briefed on the situation along the Line of Control (LoC) dividing the disputed region between India and Pakistan.

Fonseka, who later returned to New Delhi, will lay a wreath at the memorial to the Unknown Soldier at India Gate, a World War I monument, Tuesday.

He will then be presented a guard of honour at the defence ministry headquarters at South Block.

Thereafter, he will hold a series of meetings with Antony, Defence Secretary Vijay Singh, Indian Army chief Gen. Deepak Kapoor, Indian Navy chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta and Indian Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major.

Fonseka, along with Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa, leads the military campaign against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and has vowed to crush the rebels.

He is well equipped for this task, having attended courses at the Indian Army’s Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School at Varingte in Mizoram and at the Commando School at Belgaum in Karnataka.

A military official said the visit is aimed at enhancing “better understanding between the two armies”.

Fonseka is one of Sri Lanka’s most protected figures, more so after the LTTE came close to assassinating him in April last year. He survived the attack but had to spend many months in hospital.

Fonseka will also visit the Infantry School at Mhow in Madhya Pradesh and meet its commandant, Lt. Gen. K.S. Yadav.

He will also see the Taj Mahal at Agra and visit the Buddhist pilgrimage site of Bodh Gaya in Bihar.

“The visit will boost the relationship between the two countries and give a chance to enhance better understanding between the Indian and Sri Lankan armies,” a defence ministry statement said Monday.

Military officials here earlier told IANS that they did not want the Sri Lanka Army to slacken its drive against the LTTE, which is outlawed in India.

“India is closely engaged with Sri Lanka on two fronts,” one official said. “It wants to ensure that the Sri Lanka Army maintains its upper hand over the LTTE. At the same time, Sri Lanka needs to come out with a devolution package that is acceptable to the minorities.

“At the same time, there is no question of Indian military intervention beyond providing non-lethal hardware,” the official added.

The Indian and Sri Lankan navies have been conducting coordinated patrols in the narrow sea dividing the two countries. New Delhi also shares intelligence on LTTE activities with Colombo.

Thousands have been killed in fighting between the LTTE and the military in recent years.

Fonseka is sure to discuss military cooperation with India, which has become a touchy issue in bilateral relations.

Sri Lanka has been increasing looking at China and Pakistan for weapons supplies. Although India supplies only non-lethal military items to Sri Lanka, it provides training to Sri Lankan soldiers.

Sri Lankan leaders say they keep India informed about arms purchases from other countries.

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