By R. K. Radharishnan –
Reports about a group of Sri Lankan Airmen under training in Chennai being sent back is incorrect, the Sri Lankan External Affairs Ministry has said.
“They will continue their training in another location in India without any hindrance to their training programme,” it said.
At least one prominent English news channel in India had claimed that Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s demand to scrap training for Sri Lankan Air Force personnel was heeded by New Delhi, and that the personnel were being sent back. The media in Sri Lanka also picked it up.
When there is an outside factor that affects training, as have happened earlier, the defence institutions move the trainees to another facility in a ‘neutral’ State. In this case, too, the government has resorted to this action.
Considering the sensitivities in Tamil Nadu, Indian intelligence agencies had requested government agencies to avoid the State as far as possible. This critical input seemed to have been conveniently forgotten when the trainees were stationed at the Tambaram air force base.
Despite relations between the two countries not being at its best in recent times following the Indian vote for a resolution against Sri Lanka at the United Nations Human Rights Council in March, defence and security cooperation are firmly looking up.
National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon, after a meeting with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa told the Indian media stationed in Colombo last Friday that security related issues were indeed discussed. “We also discussed maritime cooperation and other security related issues. It was agreed that we could take this further. Sri Lanka is our close neighbour, with whom we enjoy a multifaceted and dynamic relationship. We look forward to strengthening and further developing this engagement,” he said. After the Defence Secretary-level talks in December 2010, India had made available additional slots in Indian Armed Forces training institutions, apart from agreeing to hold bilateral exercises. The Indo-Sri Lanka Naval exercises were subsequently held off the Trincomalee coast. India is also in the process of building two offshore patrol vessels for Sri Lanka.
India’s peacetime defence engagement with Sri Lanka was shaped in a series of talks after the fall of the Tamil Tigers in May 2009. The talks, which began at staff-level in the Army, Navy and Air Force, has also seen the service Chiefs of all three Indian Armed Forces visit Sri Lanka to firm up this relationship. The Defence Secretary level talks are structured, institutionalised and periodic. It caters to the defence concerns of both countries, apart from taking into consideration the larger question of security issues in the region.