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Pakistani general trips navy chief's Lanka visit

Josy Joseph in New Delhi | September 16, 2003 23:35 IST

Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Madhvendra Singh cancelled his visit to Sri Lanka last week in protest against Colombo's failure to inform India about the presence of a senior Pakistani military officer in the island nation at the same time.

Sources in the navy and the external affairs ministry confirmed that the admiral's visit was cancelled because the Sri Lankan government failed to inform New Delhi that General Muhammed Aziz Khan, chairman of Pakistan's joint chiefs of staff committee and co-architect of the Kargil invasion, would be in Colombo at the same time.

Adm Singh was to have flown to Colombo from Myanmar (Burma) after completing his visit to that country from September 3 to 8. He was scheduled to be in Colombo till September 13, by when the Pakistani general would have reached Colombo.

A senior naval officer said the government felt that Sri Lanka had taken India for granted and was probably equating India's historic and well-entrenched assistance to the offers from its newfound friend Pakistan.

There was no official word from either Naval Headquarters or the external affairs ministry.

General Khan is the equivalent of Adm Singh in protocol terms; both chair their country's joint chiefs of staff committee.

"We came to know of Gen Khan's visit through our contacts about three weeks back," an external affairs ministry official said. "So we advised the navy chief to cancel his Colombo visit."

Gen Khan began his visit to Sri Lanka on Sunday. He is visiting several Lankan military establishments and will call on President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, besides the country's defence minister and senior military officers.

The naval officer quoted earlier pointed out that India has been providing "substantial assistance" to Sri Lanka, which will continue. "A large number of their officers and sailors are training at our installations. We have traditionally firm relations with Sri Lanka. We expected the courtesy of them informing us about such a sensitive visit," he said.

Only about a year ago, India supplied an offshore patrol vessel, SLN Sayura, and trained its entire crew in India. The vessel is a potent weapon for the Sri Lankan Navy against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the naval officer said.

But of late, Pakistan has been trying to get a foothold in Sri Lanka through generous military assistance, causing much heartburn in New Delhi.

Islamabad is offering a $10 million line of credit to Sri Lanka for the purchase of military wares from Pakistan, reports say. Besides, Pakistan is providing Sri Lanka assistance in critical ammunitions, overhaul of several systems, and training of some personnel.

The naval officer said the visit had been cancelled, not postponed, but did not say if a note of displeasure has been sent to Colombo.

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