External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Saturday held discussions with Sri Lankan Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa on projects by India that would strengthen the economy of the island nation and sought an early release of detained Indian fishermen on humanitarian considerations. During the meeting, Jaishankar conveyed that India has always stood with Sri Lanka, and will continue to support that country in all possible ways for overcoming the economic and other challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, a statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs said.

As close friends and maritime neighbours, both India and Sri Lanka stand to gain from closer economic interlinkages, the external affairs minister conveyed during the virtual interaction. On his part, Rajapaksa recalled India’s long-standing cooperation with Sri Lanka and deeply appreciated the gestures of support and welcomed Indian investments in a number of important spheres including ports, infrastructure, energy, renewable energy, power and manufacturing. During the “detailed" meeting, Jaishankar also raised the issue of Indian fishermen in Sri Lankan custody and urged for their early release as a humanitarian gesture.

“EAM brought up the issue of Indian fishermen detained in Sri Lanka. He urged the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure early release of the detained fishermen on humanitarian considerations," the MEA said. Last month, the ministry said that 68 fishermen from Tamil Nadu have been taken into custody by the Sri Lankan authorities between December 18-20. While expressing concern over the detention, the ministry asserted that steps were being taken to ensure their early release.

The issue of fishermen remains one of the irritants in India and Sri Lanka ties and there have also been several alleged incidents of Sri Lankan Navy personnel firing at Indian fishermen in the Palk Strait and seizing their boats. “Just concluded a detailed virtual meeting with Sri Lankan Finance Minister @RealBRajapaksa. Reaffirmed that India will be a steadfast and reliable partner of Sri Lanka," Jaishankar tweeted after the meeting.

“We positively noted the extension of the USD 400 million swap facility and the deferred ACU settlement of USD 515.2 million. Discussed the early realisation of USD 1 billion term loan facility for essential commodities and of USD 500 million LoC for fuel purchase," the external affairs minister said. Jaishankar said he assured that India will take up with other international partners initiatives to support Sri Lanka at this important juncture. “Welcomed the progress on Trincomalee Tank Farm which will contribute to energy security," he said in another tweet.

“Considered projects and investment plans by India that would strengthen the Sri Lankan economy," Jaishankar said. This interaction follows Rajapaksa’s visit to India last month.

The MEA statement said that both ministers positively noted that extension of USD 400 million to Sri Lanka under the SAARC currency swap arrangement and deferral of ACU settlement of USD 515.2 million by two months would assist Sri Lanka, the MEA said. The two ministers reviewed the progress in extending the Indian credit facility of USD 1 billion for importing food, essential items and medicine and USD 500 mn for importing fuel from India.

During the meeting, Rajapaksa welcomed Indian investments in Sri Lanka in a number of important spheres including ports, infrastructure, energy, renewable energy, power and manufacturing and assured that a conducive environment will be provided to encourage such investments. In this context, both ministers noted that the recent steps taken by the Government of Sri Lanka for jointly modernizing Trincomalee Oil Tank Farms will boost the confidence of investors, apart from enhancing Sri Lanka’s energy security, the MEA said.

It said the two ministers agreed to remain in close touch for guiding mutually beneficial bilateral economic cooperation towards long-term economic partnership for shared progress and prosperity. Jaishankar conveyed greetings to the finance minister, people and the government of Sri Lanka for the year 2022 and on the occasion of the festival of Pongal celebrated both in India and Sri Lanka, the statement said.