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* Sri Lanka calls for strategic cooperation and partnership between naval powers in Indian Ocean Region
Thu, Dec 13, 2012, 10:32 pm SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

Dec 13, Galle: Sri Lanka today said strategic cooperation and partnership between naval powers in the Indian Ocean Region is essential to achieve lasting security, stability and success in the region and to counter the threats it is facing.

Sri Lanka's Secretary of Defence Gotabhaya Rajapaksa delivering the keynote address at the Galle Dialogue 2012 in Galle Thursday the Indian Ocean region (IOR) nations to look beyond immediate security threats and operational considerations to forge cooperation and partnership at the strategic level.

The International Maritime Security Conference, "Galle Dialogue - 2012", organized by the Sri Lanka Navy under the aegis of Ministry of Defence, got underway in the southern port city of Galle today, 13th December.

Indian Ocean, due to its sheer scale, faces a number of serious threats including piracy, terrorism, human smuggling, drug trafficking, illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, and illegal waste disposal, the Defence Secretary pointed out.

The broad theme of the Galle Dialogue this year "Strategic Maritime Cooperation and Partnership to face the future with Confidence" therefore encourages the large navies in the IOR to cooperate with smaller naval powers to benefit the region.

Even though the smaller navies do not have the resources or naval assets to significantly impact the security of this ocean region on their own, by working together with the large naval powers, they will be able to make a difference, the Defence Secretary emphasized.

Addressing the issues that are threatening the stability and sustainability of IOR, Sri Lankan Defence Secretary said the outward growth of piracy poses a serious problem to the uninterrupted flow of international trade, and is an issue that requires international intervention.

Sri Lanka is playing a small but significant role in combating piracy, he told the participants adding that Sri Lankan private sector companies working through the Ministry of Defence have provided on board security to a large number of commercial shipping lines and fishing trawlers that operate in this region.

Another grave issue that affects nations in the Indian Ocean littoral is the threat of terrorism, he said, describing Sri Lanka's decades-long battle to eliminate terrorism that was threatening to destabilize the region.

Addressing international human smuggling across the Indian Ocean, Rajapaksa noted that Sri Lanka and Australia have been working together to stop the illegal trafficking of persons to Australia from Sri Lanka.

He said Illegal, it is essential for the sustainability of the oceans that more stringent action is taken internationally to curb unreported and unregulated fishing which has a tremendous impact on the sustainability of oceanic fish stocks as a result of overexploitation and wasteful fishing methods.

The illegal disposal of hazardous substances as waste into the oceans is another serious environmental issue threatening the Ocean.

It is clear that individual nations acting in isolation will not be able to effect lasting practical solutions for any of these major issues and without the sharing of intelligence and vital information, and proper communication and coordination of naval operations, individual states will not be able to address these properly, the Defence Secretary stressed.

He said Sri Lanka, India and the Maldives have recently been working on a trilateral agreement for cooperation in carrying out surveillance, anti-piracy operations and in curbing illegal activities including maritime pollution.

Speaking of the cooperation of large navies, Secretary Rajapaksa said the mistrust between the two major powers in the Indian Ocean region, India and China, presently limits the degree to which effective and long lasting multilateral cooperation can be achieved.

Recognizing that the assistance China has given to many countries for the development of deep water ports in this region has been a contentious issue, the Defence Secretary stressed that Chinese interest in Sri Lanka's Hambantota port is purely commercial.

Drawing attention to the fact that most of the largest companies setting up operations at the Hambantota Port are actually Indian companies, Rajapaksa said placing the Hambantota Port within the paradigm of the String of Pearls theory is not correct.

"Sri Lanka has always pursued a non-aligned foreign policy, and our only interest is in our economic development," the Defence Secretary said.

"The country does not have the capacity to fund the projects that are necessary to unlock its economic potential. It is only natural that we extend our hands to our friends in other countries. We welcome assistance from anybody who is willing to give it without harsh conditions being attached. This should not be misunderstood as a form of alignment with any one country or another," he emphasized.

The Defence Secretary underscored that greater cooperation and partnership between the naval powers in this region will benefit not only the nations in the Indian Ocean littoral but the entire world.

The two-day dialogue held for the third consecutive year has brought together 69 foreign delegates from 28 countries and 80 local delegates. Among the countries participating in the Gall Dialogue are Australia, China, India, Malaysia, USA, UK, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Canada, France, Germany, Iran, South Africa, and Oman.

The conference will conclude tomorrow.

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