Sri Lanka will only lease out oil tanks to India under the proposed deal to jointly operate a strategic oil facility in the eastern port district of Trincomalee, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has said. Addressing a gathering in the central town of Welimada yesterday, the Prime Minister said the joint working group of the two countries will formulate investment plans for the integrated development of Trincomalee. “Japan may also join in Trincomalee development,” Wickremesinghe said. Seeking to dispel concerns that his government is selling state assets to India, China, US and Japan, he said, “We are going to cater to the oil demand in India by leasing out the tanks.” Workers of Sri Lanka’s state-run petroleum company last
month held a strike to protest the proposed deal with India to jointly operate the strategic oil facility. They, however, ended strike after an assurance from Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe that during his visit to India that week he would not sign any agreement on the World War
II-era oil tanks.
At least 73 of the 99 storage tanks in Trincomalee is to be managed under a new equity arrangement between India and Lanka. In 2002, the Indian Oil Company was given 14 of the 99 tanks to operate. Sri Lanka and India signed an MoU on economic co-operation in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Lankan counterpart Wickremesinghe in New Delhi last month. Former president Mahinda Rajapaksa has opposed the deal
and accused the Lankan government of selling state assets. Rajapaksa’s supporter Udaya Gammanpila told parliament yesterday that a “future patriotic government” would nationalise all assets given to India by the current government. Wimal Weerawansa, another key Rajapaksa’s backer, called for raising of black flags during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the country next week.
Modi is scheduled to visit Sri Lanka on May 12 to take part in the the UN ‘Vesak Day’ which commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha. The opposition claims that Modi will sign the oil tank deal during his visit despite President Maithripala Sirisena rubbishing it as misinformation. Modi would only attend the UN ‘Vesak Day’ celebrations and no bilateral agreements will be signed during his visit to Lanka, President Sirisena had said.