Amid tension in Middle East, Iranian President arrives in Sri Lanka

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Amid tension in Middle East, Iranian President arrives in Sri Lanka

Colombo: Amid the tension in the Middle East, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi arrived in Sri Lanka following his three-day visit to Pakistan.

Tight security was imposed across the country, especially closing all roads where the Iranian President is scheduled to travel during the one-day visit to the island nation.

Police spokesman and Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Nihal Thalduwa said that additional security personnel from Army, Navy, Air Force and the police elite force, Police Special Task Force (STF) have been deployed to provide extra security for the visiting dignitary.

“The security programme will cover areas where the Iranian President is due to travel to,” Thalduwa said, adding that multiple roads would be closed to provide special security to the Iranian President.

Visiting on the invitation of his Sri Lankan counterpart Ranil Wickremesinghe, President Raisi is scheduled to inaugurate the much-delayed Uma Oya Multipurpose Development Project (UOMDP), one of the largest irrigation and hydro-electricity projects in Sri Lanka.

“A highlight of President Raisi’s visit will be the signing of five memorandums of understanding (MoUs), aimed at bolstering bilateral relations between Iran and Sri Lanka,” the President Media Division (PMD) announced.

Originally started in 2008, the project is aimed to provide irrigation water to about 4,500 hectares of new land and 1,500 hectares of existing agricultural land in the Monaragala district and three districts getting 39 million cubic meters (MCM) of water for drinking and industrial purposes and also to generate 290 GWh of electrical energy annually to the National Grid.

The total $514 million contract became effective on March 15, 2010. Initially, the Export Development Bank of Iran (EDBI) was to fund USD 50 million until 2013, but due to international sanctions against Iran, funds could not be provided. However, the project was continued with Sri Lankan funds and with the Iranian contractor Farab Company.

Due to financial challenges, disruptions caused by the global Covid-19 pandemic and protests due to environmental damages, the completion date was changed to March 2024 from March 2015.

The historical ties between Sri Lanka and Iran date back centuries with interactions between the two nations being primarily centered on the Strait of Hormuz during the Persian era. Formal diplomatic relations were officially established in 1962 and Iran established its mission in Colombo in 1975, while Sri Lanka established its mission in Tehran in January 1990.

Iran has provided development assistance to Sri Lanka with loans focusing on enhancing infrastructure, irrigation, and power sectors. Sri Lanka has already repaid over $19 million to Iran, with a remaining gross payable amount of around $35 million.

The PMD stated that the two countries have collaborated closely with the United Nations and its affiliated agencies, offering mutual support on matters of shared concern. Both nations are active members of various international and regional organisations, including the Asian Cooperation Dialogue (ACD), the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), and the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA).

To facilitate much-needed tourists from Iran, Sri Lanka has approved Mahan Air flights between the two countries. In 2022, Iran ranked 27th among countries with the highest international tourist arrivals in Sri Lanka. By June 2023, Sri Lanka had welcomed 5,973 Iranian tourists.

Following tensions in West Asia, where Iran launched hundreds of drones and missiles at Israel on April 14 in a tit-for-tat to a suspected Israeli airstrike on April 1 that targeted a compound at its Consulate in Damascus, Syria, there were doubts about the visit of Iranian President to Sri Lanka, but an Iranian official had confirmed his visit.

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