Colombo: Notwithstanding stiff opposition from political parties in Tamil Nadu, Sri Lanka on Wednesday asserted that it was "very firm" on continuing the training programme of its defence personnel in India and ruled out sending them to countries like China. Sri Lanka's powerful Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa, also the brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, said his country looks at India in a "much bigger way" than China.
During an interaction with visiting Indian journalists, Rajapaksa admitted that the recent attacks against Sri Lankan citizens in Tamil Nadu has "hurt" their feelings, but said no one in his country had any "hard feelings" for India or its people. "No. We have never (thought about it) because in our long history since the days when we moved from British shoulders all training (to army personnel) were done in India or in Pakistan," he said.
The minister was responding to a question whether Sri Lanka was reconsidering the training programme for its military personnel in India and possibly get them trained in countries like China in the wake of protests in Tamil Nadu. Dwelling on the issue, he said it has been the practice for any new batch to be sent to India for training and that Sri Lanka has no plans to change the tradition.
"There can be various opinions, but we can't (shift the programme). We are very firm on that and we have confidence (that it will continue). We have not even thought about," he said when pressed further on whether Sri Lanka would stop sending its personnel to India. He noted that starting from the Defence Secretary to Army commanders, everyone has been trained in India. "Everyone go to India first and only then they are sent to other countries like USA (for training)," he said.
Rajapaksa's comments assume significance in the wake of almost all political parties in Tamil Nadu coming on a single platform to oppose the training programme to Sri Lankan military personnel in India. Initially, the parties protested the presence of Sri Lankan personnel in Tamil Nadu, but later widened their demand by asking the Indian Government to scrap the entire programme and send them back home. However, India has made it clear that the training programme would continue.
On whether Sri Lanka was moving close towards China, he said, "We look India in a much bigger way." Speaking about the attacks against Sri Lankan pilgrims in Tamil Nadu, Rajapaksa said that it "hurt" the feelings of Sri Lankan people because it had happened in India, which is regarded as a "big brother and a country which shows the way" for his nation.
"It hurt our feelings, we cannot hide that because we always think India as our big brother or who shows us the way and how should we work. India has taught us all good things. We never thought this will happen But we have no hard feelings towards India or its people," he said. The minister, who is in-charge of reconstruction of the war-torn Northern Province, also noted that most of the pilgrims who were attacked in Tamil Nadu were of Indian-origin Sri Lankans.
Asked whether such incidents will cast a shadow on Indo-Lanka ties, he replied in the negative and appreciated the Indian Government's initiatives to ensure that such incidents are not repeated in the future. "I believe that the people of Tamil Nadu understand that nobody gains from such incidents," he said.