Hua Hin: Sri Lanka has "very close" and "very special" ties with China but there is unlikely to be a defence relationship between Beijing and Colombo, Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollogama has said.
Asked how he saw the China engagement going, Bogollogama told Singapore's Straits Times newspaper on Saturday: "It is very close and I call it very special because they have supported our economic agenda and us politically in the Security Council."
He added: "China-Sri Lanka relationship is very special and a growing one."
The minister was asked if there would ever be a Chinese naval base in the port of Hambantota that China is building in southern Sri Lanka.
"They have not asked," Bogollogama said. "There are no such indications that have come our way. Why should we go by fiction and hypothesis on matters of importance? If they wanted to ask, they would have by now."
Could there be a defence relationship with China?
The minister replied: "Not really. Because I see India is our immediate neighbour and our close friend. That also is a unique relationship. India has been very supportive of our efforts for seeking sustainable peace in Sri Lanka. We are quite pleased with the current defence make up of Sri Lanka."
Bogotollogama said Sri Lanka was headed "towards the direction of greater reconciliation and healing" following the military defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May this year.
"We have already started refugee settlement. It is an opportune time for the Jaffna Tamil community and its friends abroad to look at Sri Lanka again. The president's first call after the war was for the Sri Lankan community abroad to come back and be part of Sri Lankas' integration. This is something our friends abroad should pick up and respond to."
The minister indicated delays in settling the hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians interned in military-controlled camps in Sri Lanka's north following the end of the war by saying they could go home only when the infrastructure in their original places of abode was ready.
"For that we are accelerating our efforts with support from the international community. The process can be accelerated and expedited which, we believe, will be (completed) early next year."
He said according to current estimates, some 100,000 of the estimated over 250,000 inmates in the camps would be settled by the end of this year. "That is a good number to initially target and realise."
Sri Lankan authorities had earlier given the international community to understand that they needed only 180 days to settle people in the camps.
Bogollogama said there were 10,000 former LTTE cadres currently in camps and that they "should come out well and play a useful role in their own lives and in society".
But he quickly added that if they had committed grave crimes, "that lot we can always deal with due process of law".
First Published: Sunday, October 25, 2009, 11:19