External Affairs Minister S M Krishna inaugurated the new Indian consulate in southern Sri Lankan coastal city of Hambantota, voicing confidence that India will take advantage of the industrial and commercial potential in the region, which has witnessed increased Chinese engagement.
Krishna, who is in Sri Lanka on a four-day visit, inaugurated the Consulate General of India in Hambantota, a day after opening the new Indian consulate in Jaffna, which was once the bastion of the Liberation Tigers of the Tamil Eelam.
The minister said Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has plans for developing his home town of Hambantota -- which
has recently witnessed heightened Chinese activities, including in developing a strategic port costing US $ one billion -- as a major regional hub.
"I am confident that India will take advantage of the industrial and commercial potential around Hambantota," he said.
According to a senior official, India is the first country to set up a Consulate General in Hambantota. Krishna also asked Indian investors to explore the possibility of investing in southern Sri Lanka for the benefit of the two countries.
"Our (Indo-Sri Lanka) relations are multi-faceted and historical. The challenge has been to derive the full benefit of our proximity and exploit the full potential of our friendship and cooperation. With the shadow of the conflict lifting, I believe that the time has come when we can do that," he said.
India wanted Sri Lanka to thrive and be stable and progressive so that there can be peace and tranquility in both countries and in the region, he said while asserting that New Delhi treats all its neighbours with equal respect, irrespective of their size.
He said the visit of President Rajapaksa to India in June opened a significant chapter in bilateral relations.
"Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Rajapaksa agreed to intensify our bilateral cooperation, revive connectivity and the age-old cultural links and enhance our social engagements," Krishna noted.
The joint declaration of the two leaders covers every aspect of the India-Sri Lanka multi-faceted relationship and has set markers for progress in cooperation in areas of connectivity, agriculture, power, education, HRD and culture and greater economic engagement, including through joint ventures and investment, he said.
Recalling that India was the first country to arrive with assistance to Sri Lanka during the 2004 tsunami, Krishna said New Delhi has also taken up the reconstruction of the damaged southern railway corridor from Galle to Matara.
Sri Lankan Foreign Minister G L Peiris thanked India for the assistance while taking note of the growing relations between the two countries.
Krishna also hailed the role of Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, former Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, in setting up of the consulates in Jaffna and Hambantota.
The External Affairs Minister was earlier scheduled to inaugurate the Consulate in Hambantota on Friday but could not travel to the region that day due to inclement weather.
India and Sri Lanka had agreed to establish Indian Consulates General in Hambantota and Jaffna during Rajapaksa's June visit to New Delhi in a bid to reinforce consular cooperation and friendly links between the two countries.
The consulate in Hambantota would cover the districts of Galle, Matara, Hambantota and Moneragala, which is being transferred from the consular district of the existing Assistant High Commission of India in Central Kandy.
The consulate in Jaffna would cover five districts of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka -- Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, Vavuniya and Mannar.
Image: Indian External Affairs Minister SM Krishna inaugrates the Indian High Commission at Jaffna.
Photograph: Jay Mandal/On Assignment