India, Sri Lanka strengthen trade, security ties

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India’s National Security Adviser concluded a visit to Colombo after “fruitful discussions” with President Rajapaksa. (@GotabayaR)
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India’s National Security Adviser concluded a visit to Colombo after “fruitful discussions” with President Rajapaksa. (@GotabayaR)
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India’s National Security Adviser concluded a visit to Colombo after “fruitful discussions” with President Rajapaksa. (@GotabayaR)
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Updated 29 November 2020

India, Sri Lanka strengthen trade, security ties

  • Colombo trilateral forum ends with pledge to improve intel sharing
  • Bilateral trade between the two countries totalled $4.59 billion in 2019

COLOMBO: India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval concluded a three-day visit to Colombo on Sunday after “fruitful discussions” with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on trade, new investments and security amid plans to bolster bilateral ties with the island nation.
“Had a fruitful discussion with Shri @Ajitdovalkumar, NSA #India this evening. National Sec, Sec in the Indian Ocean, new Indian investments, continuation of infrastructure proj. & strengthening bilateral relations between #SriLanka & #India were the areas discussed at the meeting,” Rajapaksa tweeted.
In a separate tweet after the meeting, the High Commission of India in Colombo acknowledged the “productive discussion” between the two officials.
“NSA Ajit Doval called on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa & had a productive discussion. NSA Doval expressed hope that the India-Sri Lanka bilateral relationship would diversify and deepen further under the strong leadership of PM @narendramodi and President @GotabayaR @MEAIndia,” it said.
As one of Sri Lanka’s closest neighbors, India is among its top investors with cumulative investments amounting to more than $1.2 billion since 2003. 
According to the Indian Board of Investment, bilateral trade between the two countries totalled $4.59 billion in 2019.
Sri Lankan tourists are among the top 10 sources of revenue for India’s tourism sector, with more than 107,360 tourist visas issued by the High Commission of India in Colombo last year. However, tourism has suffered a setback since the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent global travel ban in March.
Doval took part in a trilateral forum with Maldivian Defense Minister Mariya Ahmed Didi and Kamal Gunaratne, Sri Lanka’s defense secretary, on Saturday, with officials from Mauritius and Seychelles attending virtually.
In a joint statement after the meeting, Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Defense said that the 4th National Security Adviser-level trilateral Maritime Security Cooperation meeting had been revived after a six-year gap to expand the scope of intelligence sharing, including terrorism and cybersecurity, based on “common security threats.”
The first meeting was held in 2011 and, later, in New Delhi in 2014.
“We were able to resolve several maritime problems, such as human trafficking, drug trafficking and general security,” Brig. Chandana Wickremesinghe, a ministry spokesperson, told Arab News.
Current observers Bangladesh, Mauritius and Seychelles “will become permanent members soon,” he added.
“The Indian Ocean commands 60 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, has 80 percent of the world’s shipborne energy transport, and facilitates 46 percent of the world’s merchandise trade — maritime security remains one of our highest priorities,” Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena said during his opening address at the forum.
The three countries also agreed to improve intelligence sharing and “focus on issues such as terrorism, radicalization, extremism, drugs, arms and human trafficking, money laundering, cybersecurity and climate change,” the statement said.
Muheed Jeeran, a lobbyist, told Arab News that the forum took place at the “right time” when other countries “were looking for a berth in the Indian Ocean.”
“The representatives of the three countries would have chalked out the preventive measures that could be adopted in case of a third-party interference,” Jeeran said.
Regional security “will lead to peace in the Indian Ocean,” he added.


Dutch government collapses over benefits scandal

Updated 52 min 27 sec ago

Dutch government collapses over benefits scandal

  • Parents being targeted for investigation because they had dual nationality also underscored long-standing criticisms of systemic racism in the Netherlands
  • The row threatens to leave the Netherlands without a government in the midst of a surge in cases of a new Covid-19 variant

THE HAGUE: Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s government resigned on Friday over a child benefits scandal, media reported, threatening political turmoil as the country battles the coronavirus pandemic.
Thousands of parents were wrongly accused by Dutch authorities of fraudulently claiming child allowance, with many of them forced to pay back large amounts of money and ending up in financial ruin.
The fact that some parents were targeted for investigation by tax officials because they had dual nationality also underscored long-standing criticisms of systemic racism in the Netherlands.
Dutch media said Rutte was due to give a statement at 1315 GMT about the resignation of his four-party coalition cabinet, which comes just two months before the Netherlands is due to hold a general election on March 17.
A hard-hitting parliamentary investigation in December said civil servants cut off benefits to thousands of families wrongly accused of fraud between 2013 and 2019.
The row threatens to leave the Netherlands without a government in the midst of a surge in cases of a new Covid-19 variant that first emerged in Britain.
Rutte had opposed the cabinet’s resignation, saying the country needs leadership during the pandemic.
He had however said that if it resigned he could be authorized to lead a caretaker government until elections — in which polls say his Freedom and Democracy Party would likely come first.
Other parties in the coalition had pushed for the government to take responsibility for the scandal, which Dutch media said some 26,000 people had been affected.
They could have also faced a confidence vote in parliament next week.
Pressure mounted on the government after opposition Labour party chief Lodewijk Asscher, who was social affairs minister in Rutte’s previous cabinet, resigned on Thursday over the scandal.
Victims also lodged a legal complaint Tuesday against three serving ministers and two former ministers including Asscher.
Many were required to pay back benefits totalling tens of thousands of euros (dollars).
Tax officials were also revealed to have carried out “racial profiling” of 11,00 people based on their dual nationality, including some of those hit by the false benefit fraud accusations.
The Dutch government announced at least 30,000 euros in compensation for each parent who was wrongly accused but it has not been enough to silence the growing clamour over the scandal.
Rutte has led three coalition governments since 2010, most recently winning elections in 2017 despite strong opposition from far-right leader Geert Wilders.
Polls say he is likely to win a fourth term in the next election, with public opinion still largely backing his handling of the coronavirus crisis.