India, Sri Lanka ink housing project deal in Hambantota
pro-Rajapaksa protesters clashed with the police outside the Indian consulate
in Hambantota, Sri Lanka signed an agreement with India to build 1,200 houses
in a public ceremony held in the southern port city on Thursday.
Following the agitation
against the government’s reported move to lease out a nearby airport to India,
police arrested eight protesters, including Hambantota parliamentarian Namal
Rajapaksa, the son of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. They were all granted
bail the following week.
The coastal city of
Hambantota gained strategic significance after President Rajapaksa built a
massive port and an airport with huge Chinese loans. In July this year, his
successor government sold a majority stake of the port to China to service an
outstanding $8-billion debt it owes China, fanning concerns of countries with
competing strategic interests, particularly India and the U.S.
Local residents, including
supporters of Mr. Rajapaksa, have earlier protested the selling of “national
assets to foreign entities”, some of them leading to violent clashes.
The agitation outside the
Indian consulate earlier this month followed media reports about India’s
interest in running the nearby Mattala airport, which is mired in heavy losses.
The signing of the MoU in
Hambantota assumes significance not only in its timing, but also in taking
India’s housing project to the Sinhala-majority Southern Province.
As many as 46,000
homes have been built in the Tamil-majority north and east, while 4,000 houses
are currently being built in the hill country in the Central and Uva provinces,
where several thousand Sri Lankans of recent Indian origin live and work.
Of the 1,200 houses
to be built following Thursday’s MoU, 600 will be constructed in the Southern
Province, while the remaining would be built across Sri Lanka, through one
model village in each of the country’s 25 districts, according to a press
release from the Indian High Commission in Colombo.