Lanka will protect its interests, says FM
Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar said that Sri Lanka will take all steps to safeguard its wellbeing in the face of a unilateral decision by India to proceed with the controversial Sethusamudram Canal project.

The project will involve cutting a seaway from the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu to the western coast of India through the narrow waters that divide the two neighbours.

Making a statement in Parliament on Thursday, Mr. Kadirgamar said that discussions between the two governments had been taking place for some months at the highest levels, but that the Indian government had proceeded to implement the project without asking for Sri Lanka's nod.

".. the Government of India has chosen to implement the project on the Indian side of the Indo-Sri Lanka maritime boundary.. no prior approval was sought or granted for the project ", Mr. Kadirgamar said, adding " .. we have raised our concerns relating to the project's likely trans-frontier impact on Sri Lanka especially in the environment and livelihood areas ".

The statement, in answer to a question raised by a Buddhist-monk MP clearly indicated Sri Lanka's unhappiness with India's unilateral decision to proceed with this project which has raised environmental issues both in India and Sri Lanka, and protests among mainly northern Tamil fishermen of Sri Lanka.
The project was declared open by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the presence of Congress President Sonia Gandhi and DMK leader M. Karunanidhi. Chief Minister Jayalalitha boycotted the function saying she had other commitments.

Mr. Kadirgamar said that the concerns of his country would be safeguarded " in a calibrated and graduated manner opting first for a cooperative and consultative approach ".

Sri Lanka views the project as being environmentally detrimental to its northern waters, while India sees it as a long-time dream to enable its vessels to go from its western and eastern coasts without having to go around Sri Lanka.

The LTTE is also opposed to the project on the basis that it would hinder their movements between the island and south India where they have long established bases and even field hospitals during fighting with government troops.

The Foreign Minister's remarks hinted of a strain in the otherwise excellent relations between the two neighbouring states, both determined to end the rebel claim for a separate state in the north and east of Sri Lanka.
He said that the Sri Lankan government was currently engaged in this exercise, but hinted of a tougher line to follow if the approach did not work saying " we will consider further action thereafter if and when necessary ".
" Relevant authorities in our two countries will be able to proceed on this matter with due diligence and care ", he added having pointed out that the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Straits area where the canal project is to take place is a " shared biosphere for both India and Sri Lanka ".

He said that the development and protection of the area, including its sensitive marine life "should be carried out jointly and together ".
Mr. Kadirgamar said that "if the proposed canal poses adverse effects to Sri Lanka, the government will explore appropriate measures and take all necessary steps to safeguard our interests ".

When contacted, the Indian High Commission’s Head of Economics Division told The Sunday Times that India was still continuing with the consultation process with the technical committees. He declined to comment on the comment made by Minister Kadirgamar that his Government would explore appropriate measures to safeguard Sri Lankan interests.

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