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Sri Lanka invites Russia for oil exploration

COLOMBO, Oct 26 (Reuters) - Sri Lanka has invited Russia to explore for oil off its northwestern coast, Sri Lanka’s foreign minister said on Monday after a meeting with his Russian counterpart.

Sri Lanka, after a quarter-century war with the Tamil Tiger separatists, is keen to rebrand itself as an attractive investment destination, and to commercially exploit resources that were largely untouched during the war.

It has eight oil and gas exploration blocks in the northwestern Mannar basin, two of which have been granted to the governments of China and India.

Cairn India CAIL.BO, a unit of Britain's Cairn Energy Plc CNE.L, also has one and has earmarked $100 million for the first three years of exploration.

“We have invited Russian companies and the government of Russia to look at the oil exploration sector with greater interest, which could be facilitated by the government of Sri Lanka,” Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama told reporters.

Lavrov, the first Russian foreign minister to visit Sri Lanka in 52 years, acknowledged the invitation but made no comment at a joint press conference.

Sri Lanka’s staunchest allies during the closing phase of the war -- Russia, China and India -- are among those whose companies or state-run enterprises have made the fastest entries into the post-war investments.

The government in the past has said seismic data showed more than one billion barrels of oil lie under the sea off the northwest coast, though no reserves have yet been proven.

If proven, the reserves would be a boost for Sri Lanka, which produces no oil and imported $3.4 billion worth in 2008. (Reporting by Shihar Aneez; editing by Bryson Hull)