Government rejects reports of moves to set up US military base in Sri Lanka

Saturday, 26 January 2019 00:10 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Rejecting media reports claiming the Government will allow the United States to establish a military base in any part of Sri Lanka, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe blasted those who were involved in the constitutional crisis for making false accusations.

Allowing the Opposition to have a full day’s debate over a non-existent plan to allow a US military base in Sri Lanka, the PM said: “All this happened because of stealing the Government. Now they are dragging these false matters into the picture. We will give a debate.” Public Enterprise, Kandyan Heritage and Kandy Development Minister and Leader of the House of Parliament Lakshman Kiriella confirmed to Parliament that although the United States and Sri Lanka enjoy an excellent, multifaceted, bilateral relationship, they have not indicated any interest, wish or desire to establish a base in Trincomalee, the Eastern Province, or any other part of Sri Lanka during the many discussions held between the two governments.

“In a regional and a global context, Sri Lanka and the United States are committed to build an open, resilient Indo-Pacific region where all countries can prosper. We are committed to protect international laws, safeguards and standards. We work to protect the sovereignty of our nations. The Embassy of the United States in Colombo has issued a statement on 20 January, in response to erroneous media reports alleging that a military base will be established in Sri Lanka,” said Minister Kiriella.

On Tuesday at Parliament, JVP lawmaker Bimal Rathnayake wanted the Government to clarify its position on the use of commercial ports of Sri Lanka to conduct temporary cargo transfers by the US military.

Demanding to know the security impact on Sri Lanka of having allowed foreign military to use commercial ports, MP Rathnayake, reading out a newspaper report, said: “Are you going to sign an agreement by the name of Status of Forces Agreement with the United States? We would like to know the Government’s position on allowing military aircrafts and vessels to commercial ports.”

In response, Public Enterprise, Kandyan Heritage and Kandy Development Minister and Leader of the House of Parliament Lakshman Kiriella held that it was the practice of Sri Lanka to cooperate with the United States, and that the two nations have signed many treaties, even in the past.

According to reports, from 21-29 January, the US Navy will perform a transfer operation to move cargo between planes at Bandaranaike International Airport outside Colombo. This is part of a larger temporary cargo transfer initiative that promotes Sri Lanka’s efforts to become a regional hub for logistics and commerce. The US will pay Rs. 25 million for the said transfers in January.

The January transfers are the third iteration of the temporary cargo transfer initiative. It follows two successful transfers that took place in August 2018 at Bandaranaike International Airport and Trincomalee, and in December 2018 at Bandaranaike International Airport.

Under the initiative, several US naval aircraft are scheduled to land and depart from the commercial airport, bringing in a variety of non-lethal supplies. The supplies will be transferred between planes and then flown to the USS John C. Stennis at sea. Supplies may include personal mail for sailors, paper goods, spare parts and tools, and other items. No cargo, military equipment, or personnel associated with this initiative will remain in Sri Lanka after the completion of the cargo transfer. 

US-Sri Lanka security cooperation encompasses a variety of joint exercises and training that has developed the skills and interoperability of both countries. This cooperation was designed by both countries to address mutual security interests, such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and maritime domain awareness. (AH)