| COLOMBO, July 24
COLOMBO, July 24 A state-owned Chinese aviation
company will help build an aircraft maintenance facility in Sri
Lanka to save the island nation the foreign exchange it spends
on repairs to Chinese-made aircraft in its air force, officials
said on Thursday.
China has stepped up investments in Sri Lanka, funding
airports, roads, railways and ports, in a trend that has
unsettled India, traditionally the closest economic partner of
the island of 21 million people.
India has already raised concern over the maintenance
facility following speculation it could be built in the eastern
port city of Trincomalee, which India considers a strategic
location in national security terms.
A 1987 accord between the two Indian Ocean neighbours
provides that respective territories -- including Trincomalee --
will not be used for activities prejudicial to each other's
unity, integrity and security.
"A Chinese company called CATIC will be assisting to build
the facility, but the location is not finalised," military
spokesman Ruwan Wanigasuriya told Reuters, referring to China
National Aero-Technology Import-Export Corporation.
Air force spokesman Gihan Seneviratne said the move aimed to
save foreign exchange spent on repairs to the numerous
Chinese-made aircraft in Sri Lanka's defence fleet, but he
declined to comment on their number or the annual expenditure on
On Tuesday, opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe raised
questions in partiament over the new facility, seeking details
of the project.
Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris told parliament the government
would select an optimum location for it, adding that Trincomalee
was one of the possible sites.
"This has not become an issue between India and Sri Lanka,"
Peiris said, adding that his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj
had asked for details of the project, however.
The relationship with China is more commercial than
political, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has said in
the past, in response to Indian concerns over Chinese commercial
Rajapaksa's government has come under heavy pressure from
the West and human rights groups for alleged war crimes during a
26-year civil conflict between government forces and separatist
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the north of the
island, which ended in May 2009.
India shared intelligence with Colombo late in the war, but
has also asked it to seek a political solution to the conflict's
(Editing by Clarence Fernandez)