Sri Lanka opens $292 million Chinese-funded airport highway

COLOMBO Sun Oct 27, 2013 11:46am EDT

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka opened a $292 million Chinese-funded airport highway on Sunday, amid Indian concern about Chinese influence as the island nation rebuilds after a nearly three-decade war.

Sri Lanka has invested heavily in infrastructure since the war ended in 2009 with defeat for separatist Tamil Tiger rebels.

The new 25.6 km (16 mile) airport highway was built with a loan of $248.2 million from Exim Bank of China, with China Metallurgical Group Corporation as the contractor CNMET.UL.

China provided weapons to Sri Lanka in the final phase of the civil war and President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government has awarded more than $4 billion worth of infrastructure projects to China, mainly with Chinese loans.

India, Sri Lanka's giant neighbor, shared intelligence with Colombo late in the war, but has also asked Rajapaksa to seek a political solution to the conflict's root causes.

Rajapaksa's government has come under heavy pressure from the West and human rights groups for alleged war crimes.

The Sri Lankan president, responding to Indian concerns over Chinese commercial deals, has said the relationship with China is more commercial than political in nature.

Sri Lanka has planned over $6 billion worth of projects, including airports and sea ports, highways, coal and hydro power plants and railways, mainly to be funded by Chinese loans.

(Reporting by Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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