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Defence pact with Washington soon
Access to Lanka's ports, airports, airspace for training, hardware
By Our Diplomatic Editor
Increasing military ties between United States and Sri Lanka will see the two nations entering into a formal defence pact for enhanced military co-operation.

The Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement, as it has been officially termed, will enable the United States to utilise Sri Lanka's ports, airports and air space. As a prelude to the signing of the agreement scheduled for July, this year, United States Naval ships have been calling at the Colombo Port for bunkering as well as to enable sailors to go on shore leave.

In return for the facilities offered, Sri Lanka is to receive military assistance from the United States including increased training facilities and equipment. The training, which will encompass joint exercises with United States Armed Forces, will focus on counter terrorism and related activity. The agreement will be worked out on the basis of the use of Sri Lanka's ports, airports, and air space to be considered hire-charges that will be converted for military hardware.

Neither Colombo nor Washington is willing to confirm the release of two maritime surveillance aircraft and one patrol ship to intensify surveillance over the eastern seas of Sri Lanka. The outlines of the proposed agreement were finalized when a four-member team of military and legal personnel from the United States visited Sri Lanka last month. The drafts are now being studied by the State Department in Washington and the Defence and Foreign Ministries in Colombo.

After its war against terrorism following the September 11 attacks, the United States has been offering enhanced military support to Sri Lanka and several other countries. The US has entered into similar Agreements with more than 50 countries in its worldwide fight against terrorism. Government sources say the role of the US, particularly in the backdrop of allowing an Interim Administration to the LTTE in the north and east, would bolster stability and security. They say this will be further enhanced by the presence of India in Trincomalee through the state owned Indian Oil Corporation which has agreed to lease ten of the 99 World War II oil storage tanks at China Bay.

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