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Pak steps into India's shoes in Sri Lanka

By T V Sriram in Colombo
January 23, 2008 15:44 IST
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With India reluctant to enhance defence cooperation with it, Sri Lanka has shown signs of turning towards Pakistan with a high-level defence delegation from Islamabad holding talks with senior officials in Colombo.

Pakistan Ordnance Factories chief Lt Gen Syed Sabahat Hussein held detailed discussions with Sri Lanka's security officials, including Defence Secretary and Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse's brother Gotabaya Rajapakse.

Lt Gen Hussein stressed on enhancing defence ties with Sri Lanka during his meeting with Gotabaya Rajapakse on Tuesday, the Morning Leader reported on Tuesday.

The visit comes at a crucial time when the Lankan military, emboldened by Colombo's withdrawal from the six-year old ceasefire agreement with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, has stepped up its offensive against the rebels.

The delegation included senior POF officials, Export Director Usman Ali Bhatti and General Manager Abbas Ali.

POF is Pakistan's largest conventional arms and ordnance facility and its 14 factories and four subsidiaries produce several varieties of armaments for export. These include infantry weapons, tank and aircraft ammunition, anti-aircraft and artillery ammunition, rockets, aerial bombs, hand grenades and mortars.

However, Sri Lankan defence officials viewed that weapons from Pakistan were costlier than those from China.

Sri Lanka buys military equipment, mainly small arms, from Pakistan, as other countries, including India, have been reluctant to supply it with lethal weapons.

India, however, provides training facilities to Sri Lankan defence personnel, sources said.

This is the second major visit of defence delegation from Pakistan in the recent months.

In November, two Pakistan warships docked in the Colombo port with the Pakistan Navy officials holding discussions on ways to strengthen professional links between the navies of the two countries.

"The two warships -- Shahjahan and Nasar -- on a goodwill visit had docked here for refueling," an official had then said.

A Pakistan High Commission release had said the visit of the country's naval ships to Sri Lanka would provide an opportunity for close interaction between two friendly navies.

"Such visits between regional countries are a regular feature, but have picked up momentum during the past few years because of a growing interdependence caused by similar challenges to defend vital national interests," it said.

Fitted with state-of-the art weapons and sensors, PNS Shahjahan is one of the frontline ships of the Pakistan Navy, it added.

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T V Sriram in Colombo
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