Chennai: Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa described India as his relative and China as a friend. "I will not allow my soil to be used against my friends and neighbours. That will not happen in Sri Lanka as long as I'm here," Rajapaksa said in a rare interview to a Chennai-based Tamil television channel.
Thanking Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his foreign policy initiatives, Rajapaksa said, "The Indian PM has opened up his foreign policy to enable our two countries to have stronger ties. That is what enabled me to take the decision to release the (five) Indian fishermen, who were sentenced to death (for smuggling narcotics)."
The interview comes at a time when there is growing hostility against Rajapaksa among some pro-Eelam parties and aggressive posturing by mainstream parties in Tamil Nadu on the fishermen issue. But in recent months the new bonhomie between Modi and Rajapaksa saw defusing of diplomatic tensions resulting in both sides releasing fishermen detained for maritime violations.
To a question on the nature of his relationship with Modi, the Lankan president said, "We have spoken many times. I think we have very similar visions for our countries, which is what has made it possible for us to further strengthen our relations. I believe our relations will continue to grow in a number of areas".
On reports that India expressed displeasure over allowing Chinese worships to dock in Lanka ports, Rajapaksa said Indian authorities had only conveyed the request that they wanted to know about the movement. "I told the authorities that any time, if any country wants to come for water, or fuel, it is open to anybody," he said. This was not the first time a warship has come to Sri Lanka, Rajapaksa added.
On the fishermen issue that often exposed cracks in diplomatic relations between the two countries, Rajapaksa denied allegations of attacks on Tamil Nadu fishermen. "We have nothing to do with any attacks. We won't do it. We have given clear instructions that we must not attack anybody. That won't happen. These are all propped up stories," he said, adding that fishermen problem was a humanitarian problem. "This is how I saw it from the day I became the minister of fisheries in the 1990s. Fish don't know borders. They just go up and down."