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Call for tighter security in Palk Strait

Foreign Minister stresses need for joint patrolling by India, Lanka :

NEW DELHI: Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama and his Indian counterpart Pranab Mukherjee discussed the safety of fishermen and future naval exercises to heighten security in the Palk Strait during an hour long meeting on Monday.

Minister Bogollagama met his Indian counterpart at his North Block office the day after arriving in the Indian capital for a three day-tightly scheduled-official visit.

The Minister speaking to the media after the meeting was quoted as saying "we always proposed there must be coordinated patrolling between both countries to have greater safety in the waters for fishermen".

The two ministers also took up bilateral issues and the meeting entailed a briefing on the developments concerning the peace process and the ongoing action by the military forces in the North-East.

Bogollagama was scheduled to meet Defence Minister A.K. Antony and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar as well. He will also call on former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and his former deputy L.K. Advani, of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The talks have also focused on the upcoming SAARC summit hosted by India in the first week of April in New Delhi.

Referring to the Summit, the Minister said "we will also be discussing measures to take jointly in countering terrorism in the region".

Foreign Secretary Dr. Palitha Kohona and his Indian counterpart Shivsankar Menon were also present at the meeting.

Bogollagama arrived in India on Sunday, making his second trip since his appointment two months ago, following a series of important meetings in the United States, including those with the Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.

During his former visit he also met the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He will return to the country today.

Meanwhile, Defence Minister Antony reiterated that the Indian Government is still considering the introduction of India and Sri Lanka Navies to do joint patrols in the sea between both countries.

The Indian Defence Minister after a visit to India's Southern Naval Command at Kochi in the State of Kerala said, "Joint patrolling by the Navies of India and Sri Lanka has been suggested, to keep trouble-makers at bay".

It was an obvious reference to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) who have been allegedly using the sea between both countries as a passage for gun and drug running. Indian intelligence services have alarmed that the Tamil militants could be supplying guns not only for their armouries but also for some Indian insurgent groups for money or in kind.

Answering a question at a media briefing, after the visit, on the terrorist threat to the country from the seas, he said the Navy, Coast Guard and personnel of coastal police stations must act in coordination, to thwart attempts to attack India's coastal assets.

"We already have unmanned aerial vehicles to do surveillance of the coast. Three offshore-patrol vessels and more helicopters will be commissioned into the Navy," he further said.

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