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Battaramulla of the 1940s – Paradise Lost

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Excerpted from the memoirs of Edward Gunawardena, Retd. senior DIG Police

CHILDHOOD MEMORIES (1939)

In January 1939, a few months before my fifth birthday, I was admitted to the ‘baby class’ of St. Joseph’s College. My elder brothers, Owen and Irwin, were already in this school; and my younger brother Aelian was a toddler at home. It was during this year that my mother died. I remember being lifted high for me to view her corpse in the coffin. I came to know sometime later that she had died of complications expecting the fifth child. I remember the large numbers that thronged our house. She had been a much loved lady who had been kind and helpful particularly to the poor women of the village.

I remember the mild earth tremor and the beginning of the war too. It took sometime for my grandfather and father to realize that the rattling of bottles and glasses on racks and tables had been caused by an earthquake. I could not have understood anything about the war. But there certainly was unusual excitement on the streets and among the teachers in the kindergarten block.

I traveled to school with my brothers in a rickshaw. It was a leisurely ride through Etul Kotte, Borella and Kynsey Road to Darley Road. Cyclists dominated the roads and buses and cars were uncommon. The rickshaw-puller was Velu, a strong and amiable man. A part of his breakfast every morning was a large banana with a pinch of asafoetida (perunkayan). The Tamil I learnt conversing with Velu has been of immense value to me. We lived in our parental home in the suburban village of Battaramulla; and I have continued to live in Battaramulla ever since.

 

The Village

Nestled amidst lush paddy fields and marshland of mangroves and reeds was the small, quiet and homely village of Battaramulla. One square mile in extent it was bounded in the West by the Diyawanna, the South by the ancient Korambe Ela canal, the East by a stretch of paddy lands called The Deniya and the seventh mile post of the main road from Colombo; and on the North by the marshes bordering the village of Kalapaluwawa. The most pleasing natural features of the village were the clean and perennial waterways and the vast extents of marshland with an abundance of flora and fauna of different species.

Elevated flat lands rising above the marshes and the paddy fields particularly on the western fringe also featured the landscape. Kumbukgahaduwa abounded in bushes of dang (blackberry) whilst the Seeniduwa was a recreational ground particularly for the children. It was also the place for the traditional adult competitions between the Udupila and Yatapila of ang-adeema and pol-gaseema. These competitions which were organized to invoke the blessings of goddess Pattini were enthusiastically fought out by village folks. The spirit in which the people participated certainly promoted unity and harmony.

Other elevated areas above the marshlands and paddy fields were Polduwa and Kamathgoda. Today, on the former stands the Water’s Edge Hotel; and the Central Environmental Authority building complex has swallowed up the latter.

The Diyawanna Oya and the Korambe Ela were waterways with crystal clear water. The Diyawanna was broad and shallow but midstream was deep enough for padda boats (paru) to navigate. The bridge over the Diyawanna separating Etul Kotte and Battaramulla was a single lane contraption of wooden sleepers. Whenever a vehicle crossed this bridge, the rattle of the sleepers could be heard even from our home, particularly in the night. The level of sound pollution was so low that distant sounds such as the siren of the Wellawatte Spinning and Weaving Mills and the Colombo – Opanaike train passing the Cotta Road, Narahenpita, area could be heard. There were nights when one could hear the sound of the breaking of ocean waves. During the South West Monsoon the symphonic croaking of thousands of frogs disturbed the tranquility of the night.

The Korambe Ela which is only about 200 meters from where I live on Robert Gunawardena Mawatha that was earlier Korambe Road is of special significance to me. This was the clear stream in which we as children swam and frolicked in. The water was so clear that fish such as ralli and nala-handaya could be seen as in an aquarium. During the rain floods (pitara) of March – April and October there were many amateur fishermen who laid nets across this stream and had a fine catch of fish such as Loola, Kavaiya, Magura , Hunga, Angkutta and Theliya.

The wanton destruction of the wetlands in particular has led to the pollution of these waterways and immeasurable environmental damage in general. At the conclusion of the Waters Edge case in November 2008 1 wrote to the newspapers on the Wetlands of the Battaramulla — Kotte area. This letter was given prominence in several newspapers and I reproduce some excerpts.

 

The Wetlands Of Battaramulla — Kotte

“Apart from the damning exposure of the corrupt and illegal acts of President Chandrika Kumaratunga et al, the Water’s Edge Judgment has very forcefully brought into focus the importance of natural wetlands mainly from the point of view of flood protection and water retention. Indeed, as acclaimed by the entire nation, this is a landmark judgment that reminds every citizen of the importance of the preservation and nurturing of the environment. It is only second to the historic first sermon of Arahat Mahinda when he told king Devanampiyatissa that the latter was only a trustee of the land and the environment and had no right to destroy what rightfully belong to generations to come.

“This judgment should strengthen the hands of policy makers and enforcers of environmental laws. Writers of textbooks on environmental studies for school children could also draw inspiration from the observations made in the judgment.

“The sections of the judgment that dwell comprehensively on the environmental significance of wetlands with references to erudite judgments of Indian Courts were of particular interest to me; the simple reason being the fact that I have seen and enjoyed the wholesome beauty of the pristine wetlands of the Battaramulla — Kotte areas from my childhood in the late thirties of the last century…..Every macro or micro geographical region has distinctive morphological and features of vegetation. Even the Arctic regions, the Sahara desert, the Himalayan peaks or the Amazon forests are endowed with serene natural beauty. With the changing seasons, the sunsets or when moonlit they provide heart warming, enchanting sights. Streams, rivers beaches and coral reefs also enrich the environment. All these gifts of nature are beneficial to man.”

Sri Lanka is perhaps one of the few countries in the world with a variety of natural environmental facets concentrated within an area of 65,000 Sq. K.M. The hill country is characterized by its mountains, meandering rivers, waterfalls and wooded valleys. The endless forests of the dry zone rock outcrops such as Sigiriya, Gunners Point, Veddagala & Toppigala are truly fascinating. In the wetzone Sinharaja the virgin tropical forest is a world heritage reserve. Of the wetzone the Battaramulla — Kotte area was not long ago characterized by vast extents of wetlands. On the fringes of these wetlands extending for acres and acres were paddy lands that yielded profusely whilst helping water retention at times of excessive rain.

Traveling to St. Joseph’s College, Darley Road, from my parental residence in Battaramulla from 1939 to 1952, first by rickshaw, then by buggy cart and finally bicycle the road took me across the wetlands of the Diyawanna and the wetlands of Rajagiriya. The Battaramulla Etul Kotte — Welikada Road and Castle St. were across these wetlands. on the road to Etul Kotte over the Diyawanna Oya was a wooden bridge. The noise that it made when a vehicle crossed it occasionally could be heard in the nights several kilometers away. Buildings were rare and far apart. The Kotte U.C. building is perhaps one of the older buildings that remain. The Castle St. Hospital is one of the first buildings to come up on reclaimed land.

It is with the construction of the Parliamentary Complex and the shifting of the capital to Sri Jayawardenapura in the early eighties that the building boom began. The buildings alongside the Parliament Road from the Pelawatta end to Koswatta such as the Foreign Employment Bureau and the Central Environmental Authority came up on filled paddy lands. The entire ‘Waters Edge Golf Course’ was an area of lush marsh vegetation, the highest point being ‘Pol Duwa’ on the western end of the present Subhuthipura which was then a high land planted with rubber.

These wet lands that were highlighted in the Water’s Edge judgment, on the northern side of the Battaramulla, Kotte Road extended beyond the Welikada – Kalapaluwawa Road linking up with the wet-lands of Kolonnawa and the Orugodawatta – Modena wet lands of Colombo North.

The wet lands on the southern side of the road from Battaramulla via Kotte to Castle St. linked up with the marshlands of the Attidiya – Bellanvila area. Closer to the City centre these wetlands extended to Narahenpita and beyond.

I wonder howmany will remember that there was after world War II a regimented labour force called the Essential Services Labour Corps (ESLC). This labour force was mainly involved in Unemployment Relief Work (URW) such as the reclamation of low lying land for state purposes. The present RMV’s office and the Police Transport Div. are on the land reclaimed by the URW programme.

During my childhood numerous opportunities came the way of children to roam the fringes of these wetlands. During the War-Years I remember frolicking In the paddy fields and threshing floors that belonged to the family. ‘Welipatha’ in close proximity to the western end of Rajamalwatte, then known as Averlwatta was one such paddy field. Today the speaker’s residence stands where this paddy field was. A stone’s throw to the west was ‘Seeniduwa’ – a slightly elevated flat extent of land ringed by blackberry (dan) bovitiya and eraminia bushes which was the favourite playground of the children of Battaramulla.

The Kirala Kaduru and Vel atha trees attracted large numbers of bats in the evenings.

In the deeper areas of the marshlands where there were fair extents of water exposed to direct sunlight there were nelum, olu and kekatiya in plenty. With the morning sun the nelum and olu in bloom presented a heartwarming sight. Particularly during the days approaching the full-moon there were a few boatmen venturing out to these deeper areas to pick the lotuses and olu in bloom. Kekatiya stalks were also collected as it was a much sought after vegetable.

By today’s standards this was veritably a nature’s paradise. It would certainly have been a special location for nature enthusiasts and tourists. Apart from the traditional birds of the wetlands the ‘purple coots, night herons, cattle egrets, kingfishers and the common KoraWakkas a myriad varieties of birds were attracted by the fruits and berries. To see flocks of cormorants fly in formation or a white bellied hawk snatch a wriggling fish in its talons were common sights. Butterflies of different colours and sizes and dragon flies were plentiful.

The water in the marshes amidst the mangroves and reeds was crystal clear. Rich in all types of indigenous fish, fishing with rods was resorted to in the fringes. Small ornamental fish such as nalahandayas, ralli and thithayas were caught with ease by children with cupped hands and taken away in bottles for rearing. During heavy rains fish such as the cat-fish (Magura) and Kavaiya even ventured up narrow streams to be trapped or cut with swords and manna knives. Monitor-lizards, otters and fishing cats (which were called diviyas) were the main predators.

It is noteworthy that these wetlands also were of direct economic significance to many village folks. There were many families that reared milk cows on grass that grew profusely in the marshes. The milk they produced was delivered at the doorsteps of homes. There were others who raised herds of buffaloes that wallowed in the water and fed on marsh grass. These buffaloes were much in demand by the numerous paddy cultivators for the preparation of the fields for sowing and also for threshing after harvest. The curd produced was distributed to homes and the few boutiques that existed.

I vividly remember the wetlands of the Narahenpita area being put to commercial agricultural use by an enterprising businessman whose name was Ramasamy. He successfully developed a typical tropical marshland agriculture to meet the demands of a specific consumer market. On large extents of wetland he cultivated greens such as Katurumurunga, Kankun and Mukunuwenna. On ridges and elevated places were clumps of banana trees and well tended jasmine bushes. Jasmine flowers were in great. demand particularly in the Wellawatte, Pettah and Kotahena areas for the making of garlands, womens’ hairdos and offerings at kovils.

This businessman also raised a special breed of buffaloes called ‘Thorati buffaloes that produced milk profusely. The numerous saiva hotels in Colombo were the main outlets for the milk. These milch buffaloes were fed mainly on marsh grass. The cattle manure that collected in the sheds was used as fertilizer for the leafy vegetables, bananas and the jasmine plants. Indeed this was an admirable wetlands agricultural model.

The Wetakeyiya plant (pandanus) and other reeds particularly ‘gal eha’ were used for the weaving of mats and baskets. Galeha mats which were woven in different colours using mainly organic dyes were much in demand. Because of the spongy nature of the reed when dry it was comfortable to sit on or sleep on. Large mats called ‘Magal Peduru’ were used for the sun drying of paddy. Many families living on the fringes of these wetlands of the Battaramulla – Kotte area subsisted on this economy.

The “Water’s Edge” judgement is indeed a blessing for generations to come. They will be able to savour a little bit at least of what their forefathers enjoyed. History will record that it was the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka that made it possible.

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31st night…Down Under

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The NYE scene at the Grand Reception Centre, in Melbourne

Despite the COVID-19 restrictions, the Voluntary Outreach Club (VOC) in Victoria, Australia, was able to hold a successful New Year’s Eve celebration, at The Grand Reception Centre, in Cathies Lane, Wantirna South.

In a venue that comfortably holds 800, the 200 guests (Covid restrictions), spanning three generations, had plenty of room to move around and dance to the array of fabulous music provided by the four bands – Replay 6, Ebony, Cloud 9 with Sonali, Redemption and All About That Brass. 

The drinks provided, they say, oiled the rusty feet of the guests, who were able to finally dress up and attend such an event after nine months of lockdown and restrictions. With plenty of room for dancing, the guests had a thoroughly enjoyable time. 

According to an insider, the sustenance of an antipasto platter, eastern and western smorgasbord, and the midnight milk rice and katta sambol, were simply delicious, not forgetting the fantastic service provided by Jude de Silva, AJ Senewiratne and The Grand staff.

The icing on the cake, I’m told, was the hugely generous sponsorship of the bands by Bert Ekenaike. This gesture boosted the coffers of the VOC, which helps 80 beneficiaries, in Sri Lanka, comprising singles and couples, by sending Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 3,500, per month, to each of these beneficiaries, and augmenting this sum, twice a year, in July and December, with a bonus of the same amounts.

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Fall armyworm:

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Strategies for effective management

by Prof. Rohan Rajapakse

Emeritus Professor of Entomology University of Ruhuna and former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy

Fall armyworm Spodoptera frugiperda (Lepidoptera; Noctuidae), a quarantine pest, has been identified as a very destructive insect pest of Maize/Corn. This insect originated in Americas and invaded the African region in 2016 and was detected in India the following year and perhaps would have naturally migrated to Sri Lanka last year from India. Now, it is reported that FAW is present in all districts of Sri Lanka except Nuwara-Eliya and Jaffna. In winter in the USA the pest is found in Texas and Florida and subsequent summer when it gets warmed up, the pest migrates up to the Canadian border. The corn belt of China is also at a risk due to its migratory habit and the cost to Africa, due to this invasion, will exceed $ 6 billion. Maize is a staple food crop in Africa and millions depends on it for food. Hence in Africa and now in Asia it is a global food security issue for millions of people that could be at a risk if FAW is not controlled. The adult moth migrates very fast almost 100 km every night and nearly 500 km, before laying 1,500 eggs on average. The entire life cycle lasts 30 days in tropical climate. There are six larval instars and mostly the destruction is caused by the last three instars and the growing moth pupates in the soil for 10-12 days and the nocturnal adults lay eggs on leaves for about 10 days The pest thrives on about 80 host plants but the most preferable host is Corn/Maize. In Sri Lanka the preferred hosts includes Kurakkan and Sugarcane in addition to Maize. The symptoms of damage- scrapping of leaves, pin holes, small to medium elongated holes. Loss of top portion of leaves fecal pellets in leaf whorl which are easily recognizable. The Comb is also attacked in later stages with a heavy infestation, but after removing the FAW affected portion of the comb the remaining portion is still suitable for consumption and there is no fear of any toxicity. There are two morphologically identical strains––maize strain that feeds on maize and sorghum, and rice strain that feeds on rice and pasture grasses. However, in Sri Lanka only the maize strain has been detected so far. FAW thrives in a climate where drought is followed by heavy rains on a similar way we have experienced last year.

Although new agricultural insect pests are found in Sri Lanka, from time to time a number of factors make FAW unique (FAO Publication 2018)

1

FAW consumes many different crops 2 FAW spreads quickly across large geographical areas 3.FAW can persists throughout the year. Therefore Sri Lanka needs to develop a coordinated evidence based effort to scout FAW for farming communities and effective monitoring by the research staff

 

Management

Since the pest has already arrived in Sri Lanka, the Government/ Ministry of Agriculture should formulate short, mid and long term strategies for its effective management with all stakeholders. Also it has to be clear that a single strategy ex pesticides will not help in effective control but a proper combination of tactics, such as integrated pest management should be employed in the long term. In the short term, the recommended pesticides by the Department of Agriculture should be employed along with cultural and sanitary control strategies. These strategies have now been formulated and what is required to enlighten the farmers and people by utilizing the trained staff. The country should be placed on a war footing and an emergency should be declared in the affected areas to coordinate the control strategies. The integrated control tactics, such as cultural control, should be integrated with pesticides based on the recommendation of the research staff. The residues should be destroyed after harvest and avoid late planting and staggered planting. The Ministry of Agriculture should create awareness among the farmers and train the farmers on early detection of egg masses found on leaves and destroy them by hand. The pesticides for FAW control is recommended by the Department of Agriculture (Please contact Registrar of Pesticides of the Department of Agriculture for the recommended list of Pesticides) and they have to make it available at subsidized rates or given free with technical information considering the emergency. When the larvae are small early detection and proper timing of pesticides are critical for elimination of the pest. With this outbreak some farmers and the private sector is engaged using highly hazardous pesticides which should be avoided to make way for sustainable alternatives. The Department Entomologists should train the farmers for early detection of egg masses when present on 5% of the plants and when 25% of the plants show damage symptoms and live larvae are present on war footing. The economic threshold has been calculated as 2-3 live larvae per plant and the control strategies should commence as soon as this threshold is detected by visual observation. The majority of development officers, agriculture and science graduates working in Divisional Secretariats, are already trained on pest control and their participation on training the farmers for early detection and pesticide selection and application warrants the strategy. Some of the recommended pesticides are follows: Chlorantraniliprole 200g/1SC: Trade name Corogen, Emamectin benzoate 5%SG: Trade name Proclaim,, Flubendiamide 24% WG : Trade name Belt. The Principle Entomologist of the Dry Zone Research Station of the Department of Agriculture ( Mrs KNC Gunawardena) has prepared an effective online presentation on FAW control and this has to be shared by all. The African country Ghana has declared a state of emergency in response to this invasion as Maize is a staple crop which should be followed by us in Sri Lanka.

The long term strategies include early detection. Stopping its spread and initiation of a long term research programme to identify tolerant varieties and granting permission to import such varieties as seeds. The country should ear mark on a Biological control strategy by breeding and releasing FAW parasitoids regularly. In USA larval parasitoids such as Apanteles marginiventris, Chelonus insularis and Microplitis manilae have contributed to keep the pest population down along with egg parasitoids Trichrogramma spp and a similar program should be initiated in the affected districts. Finally the best option is to establish a task force with the involvement of entomologists, extension personnel along with the administrators and scientists working in the universities to ensure the country are safe with regards to food security

 

 

The author has read for a PhD at University of Florida Gainesville in the USA in 1985 and his PhD thesis exclusively deals on Fall armyworm parasitoids and its ecology

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President’s decision on Colombo Port in national interest

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by Jehan Perera

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has announced that the government will be entering into an agreement with the Adani Group, based in India, to offer them 49 percent of the shares in a joint venture company. This joint venture will include Japanese government financing and will manage one of the terminals in the Colombo port. The entry of Adani Group, into the Colombo port, has been opposed by a wide coalition of organisations, ranging from port workers, and left political parties, to nationalists and civil society groups. These groups have little in common with each other but on this particular issue they have made common cause and even held joint protests together. The main thrust of their objections is that control over the East Terminal of the Colombo port will pass into foreign hands and result in an erosion of Sri Lankan sovereignty.

The cause for alarm, among the protesting groups, may be fueled by the observation that one by one, the ports of Sri Lanka are being utilized by foreign powers. In particular, China has entered into Sri Lanka in a big way, obtaining a 99-year lease in the Hambantota port that it constructed. The Hambantota port, in its early period, showed it was economically unviable in the absence of Chinese cooperation. The burden of debt repayment induced the previous government to enter into this agreement which may become unfavorable in terms of national sovereignty. There were protests at the time of the signing of that lease agreement, too, though not as effective as the present protests regarding the change of management in the Colombo port, which is led by the very forces that helped to bring the present government into power.

In addition to the Hambantota port, control over the South Terminal in the Colombo port, and a section of the harbour, has been given to China through one of its companies on a 35-year lease. In both cases, large Chinese investments have helped to upgrade Sri Lanka’s capacity to attract international shipping lines to make use of the port facilities. The Hambantota port, in particular, could benefit enormously from Chinese ships that traverse the Indian Ocean, the Middle East and Africa. Instead of making refuelling stops elsewhere along the way, such as Singapore, they could now come to Hambantota. However, with these investments would also come a Chinese presence that could cause concerns among international actors that have geopolitics in mind. It may be that these concerns are finding expression in the opposition to the Indian entry into the Colombo port.

 

RATIONAL ANALYSIS

It will not only be Sri Lankans who are concerned about the Chinese presence in the country’s ports. As Sri Lanka’s nearest neighbour, India, too, would have concerns, which are mirrored by other international powers, such as Japan. It might be remembered that when Japan’s prime minister visited Sri Lanka, in 2014, there was a diplomatic furor that a Chinese submarine entered the Colombo port, unannounced, even to the Sri Lankan government, and docked there. With its excellent relations with China, that go back to the 1950s, when the two countries signed a barter agreement, exchanging rice for rubber, most Sri Lankans would tend to see such Chinese actions in a benign light. In recent years, China has emerged as Sri Lanka’s largest donor and its assistance is much appreciated. However, India’s relations with China are more complex.

The two countries have massive trade links, but they have also gone to war with each other due to territorial disputes. Even at the present time Indian and Chinese troops are in a stand-off on their disputed Himalayan border. In this context, India would be concerned that the Chinese presence in Sri Lankan ports could eventually take the form of an overall strategy to encircle it and use this leverage to India’s disadvantage. Sri Lanka’s location at the bottom of the Asian continent gives it a strategic importance in the Indian Ocean that goes beyond any possible India-China rivalry. The recent visit of US Secretary of State to Sri Lanka included an acerbic exchange of words between the US and Chinese representatives on that occasion and an open call to Sri Lanka to take sides, or not to take sides. As a small actor in itself, Sri Lanka would have no interest in getting involved in international geopolitics and has a longstanding policy of non-alignment and friendship with all.

More than anyone else, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would be aware of these geopolitical issues. As Defence Secretary, during the years of war with the LTTE, he was a key member of the government team that obtained wide ranging international support for prosecuting the war. Today, the President’s key advisers include those with military backgrounds who have special expertise in geopolitical analysis and who have spent time in leading military academies in different parts of the world, including the US, China and India. This contrasts with the more parochial thinking of political, nationalist and even civil society groups who have come out in opposition to the agreement that the government has entered into with the Indian company to manage the Eastern Terminal of the Colombo port.

 

GEOPOLITICAL IMPERATIVE

President Rajapaksa was elected to the presidency in the context of the security debacle of the Easter Sunday suicide bomb attacks and with the expectation that he would provide clear-cut leadership in protecting the country’s national security without permitting partisan interests from becoming obstacles. In his meeting with the representatives of the trade unions, opposing the handing of management of the Eastern Terminal to foreign hands, the President is reported to have said that geopolitics had also to be taken into account. As many as 23 trade unions, representing the Ports Authority, the National Organisations collective, and a number of civil organizations, have joined the formation of a new national movement named the ‘Movement to protect the East Container Terminal’.

One of those political representatives at the meeting, leader of the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP), Pubudu Jayagoda, is reported to have said, “When trade unions met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Wednesday (13), he told them about the broad geopolitical factors in play. This is reminiscent when the unions met former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe a few years back. The unions told Wickremesinghe what they told Rajapaksa––the ECT could be operated by Sri Lanka in a profitable manner. Wickremesinghe told the union representatives, ‘You are talking about the port, I am talking about geopolitics’.” However, former Prime Minister Wickremesinghe may not have had the necessary political power to ensure that his vision prevailed and failed to ensure the implementation of the agreement.

Entering into the agreement with the Indian company will serve Sri Lanka’s national interests in several ways. By ensuring that India is given a presence in Sri Lanka’s most important port, it will reassure our closest neighbour, as well as Japan, which has been Sri Lanka’s most consistent international donor, that our national security interests and theirs are not in opposition to each other. Second, it takes cognizance of the reality that about two-thirds of the Colombo port’s shipping is due to transshipment with India, and thereby ensures that this profitable business continues. Third, it will give Sri Lanka more leverage to negotiate with India regarding key concerns, which includes Indian support to Sri Lanka at international forums and in providing guarantees for the unity of the country in the face of possible future threats and the need to ensure devolution of power to satisfy ethnic minority aspirations.

 

 

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