India has sought details about the proposed US$40 million investment by China National Aero-Technology Import-Export Corporation (CATIC) to establish an aircraft maintenance base in Sri Lanka, External affairs Minister G.L. Peiris said in Parliament yesterday.
He said this in response to a statement made by Opposition United National Party (UNP) Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.
He quoted our sister paper ‘Sunday Times’ and said this project was proposed to be set up in Trincomalee and that the Government had not denied it.
Referring to the Indo-Lanka Accord signed in July, 1987, he said the two countries should not allow their territories to be used in a manner prejudicial to each other’s unity, integrity and security.
“This means that Trincomalee cannot be used in a manner prejudicial to India,” Mr. Wickremesinghe said.
The minister said this project was proposed to establish a centre to maintain and repair aircrafts used by Sri Lanka Air Force in a cost effective manner.
“However, the venue for the project has not been decided yet,” he said. “The Opposition Leader has made the statement with false information right at the beginning. We have not chosen the location for the project yet. It has to be implemented in a place where jets can land. There are three such places in Sri Lanka- Katunayake, Mattala and Trincomalee. We have not still decided on the location. We will select the most appropriate place.”
The minister said this project would be beneficial to the country in terms of saving valuable foreign exchange.
“There is no controversy involved between India and Sri Lanka over this project. It has not led to a crisis between the two countries though the Opposition Leader expects it to happen. During my recent meeting with Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, she asked for details about this project. That is all. This is actually a form of fishing in troubled waters,” he said.
The minister said Sri Lanka would never act in a manner prejudicial to India’s national interests and with regard to the Indo-Lanka Accord; the Minister said the world had changed since then.
“Today, China has invested in mega projects in India. Likewise, India has undertaken similar investment projects in China,” he said.
Mr. Wickremesinghe, in his response to the Minister, disputed the need for such an aircraft maintenance base in Sri Lanka.
“We have only 44 Chinese aircraft -- MIG 21 and Chendgu. Ours is a small Air Force. Even China stopped manufacturing some of their aircrafts which we continue to use. We have 12-MI aicraft. We have repaired them for the past 30 years. We only import their engines to be assembled,” he said.
Mr. Wickremesinghe said the Air Force has 53 Russian aircraft and 45 US aircraft and therefore there was no necessity for this investment to maintain and repair Chinese aircraft.
The minister whatever aircraft we have had to be maintained and repaired locally to save foreign exchange. (Kelum Bandara and Yohan Perera)