Krishna likely to open strategic Jaffna, Hambantota consulates in Oct end

New Delhi, Oct. 5 (ANI): External Affairs Minister S M Krishna is likely to inaugurate two Indian consulates in Hambantota and Jaffna during his four-day visit to Sri Lanka in the last week of October.

The opening of the consulate office in Hambantota is significant in the wake of the Chinese having already established a strategic presence there through the construction of a harbour. The proposed Indian consulate will cover activities in the districts of Galle, Matara, Hambantota and Moneragala.

India has maintained that the Chinese-aided Hambantota project, which opens in November, does not pose any security threat. However, there are concerns in New Delhi over the rising Chinese influence in Sri Lanka.

India has only one consulate in Kandy and the opening of consulates in Jaffna and Hambantotta is an attempt to reach out and spread its sphere of influence to counterweigh China, according to analysts.

Sections of India's strategic community believes Hambantota is part of a Chinese policy to throw a "string of pearls" geographical circle of influence around India and is aimed at counterbalancing and undermining India's natural influence in Sri Lanka.

The port project, which will give alternate access to Chinese goods through the Indian Ocean, was earlier offered to India according to Lankan officials.

China is also developing port facilities in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Pakistan, and has plans for constructing railway projects in Nepal.

China is pumping nearly six billion dollars in the form of grants and funding of projects in Sri Lanka.

To check Beijing's rising influence, New Delhi has also accelerated its aid programme and has offered concessionary credit facilities amounting to about 800 million dollars for the railway projects in Sri Lanka.

The proposed consulate in Jaffna will cover the five districts of the war-ravaged northern province - Jaffna, Killinochchi, Mullaithivu, Vavuniya and Mannar.

The consulate will help rehabilitate and streamline the humanitarian assistance to the displaced Tamils.

India had pledged to build 50,000 houses in the northern and eastern provinces, the Jaffna Cultural Center, the Jaffna Teaching Hospital and the Duraiappah Stadium.

During his expected visit, Krishna will reportedly review progress of Indian-aided projects and is likely to reassure New Delhi's commitment to rebuilding infrastructure in the war-ravaged nation.

He is also expected to call on Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa. By Naveen Kapoor (ANI)

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