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PM Narendra Modi to embark on 3-nation tour today

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New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will on Tuesday embark on a five-day visit to three island nations — Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka.
Modi’s visit is expected to give traction to the country’s Indian Ocean outreach.

During his Sri Lanka visit, the PM will also visit a former war zone and Tamil heartland of Jaffna.

Briefing reporters ahead of Prime Minister’s visit, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar said on Monday that India has historical linkages with the three countries and “very strong” people-to-people bonds.

As Modi visits Sri Lanka on March 13-14 on the third and final leg of his tour, Indian officials said today that New Delhi is looking forward to a solution to the “humanitarian” issue of its fishermen’s rights amid controversial remarks by Sri Lankan Premier Ranil Wickramasinghe.

Modi will be the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Jaffna where he will hand over homes built with the help of Indian assistance. An Indian Prime Minister is also visiting the island nation after a gap of 28 years since late Rajiv Gandhi last visited the country in 1987.

Some 20,000 such homes were built in Jaffna described by India as “a flagship cooperation project currently in Sri Lanka”.

Asked at a news conference about the controversy over Wickramasinghe’s remarks that Indian fishermen may be shot if they intruded into his country’s waters, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar had on Monday said External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had taken up the matter with the premier during her meeting with him in Colombo last Saturday.

The current thinking is that the fishermen bodies on both sides could meet just after Modi’s visit to Lanka.

Jaishankar also said that India is working with Sri Lanka’s new government to repatriate nearly one lakh Tamil refugees who fled to Tamil Nadu during the civil war.

He said one meeting already had taken place on the bilateral side on January 30 to discuss the issue.

According to Jaishankar, there are 65,000 refugees living in 109 government-run camps in Tamil Nadu and another 37,000 are staying elsewhere in the state.

Modi, who will also address Sri Lankan Parliament during his visit, will be only the second foreign leader after British Premier David Cameron to visit Jaffna in the Northern province. Cameron went to Jaffna in November 2013 on the sidelines of the Commonwealth summit hosted by former president Mahinda Rajapakse in November 2013.

On the first day of his visit to Lanka on Friday, Modi will hold summit talks with Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena who was in India last month on his first foreign trip after assuming office.

In Seychelles, the first stopover of Modi’s visit, the Indian prime minister will hold bilateral discussions with President James Alexis Michel to strengthen maritime ties and enhance bilateral development cooperation.

Modi will be the second Indian prime minister to visit Seychelles after Indira Gandhi’s visit in 1981.

India’s bilateral cooperation with Seychelles is mainly in the field of health, education, defence and maritime security.

India recently gave a patrol ship to Seychelles, a 115-island country located 1,500 km east of Southeast Africa. The patrol ship was for the Seychelles Coast Guard to better patrol its extensive Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Both are likely to ink an agreement to strengthen the energy sector of the Seychelles, an Indian Ocean archipelago of 90,000 people.

The Prime Minister will visit Mauritius on March 11-12 where he will hold intensive meetings with Prime Minister Sir Anerood Jugnauth to further strengthen India’s special and unique relations with that country. Modi will also address Mauritian Parliament.

Besides meeting other political personalities of the island, Modi will pay a visit to the Ganga Talao and Apravasi Ghat, both of which are associated with the arrival of the Indian indentured labourers to Mauritius.

He will also visit the Mahatma Gandhi Institute.

During the visit, several Memorandums of Understanding are set to be inked, including an agreement to facilitate sea and air transport.

“I embark on my visit to Sri Lanka with joy & the confidence that the visit will make India-SL relations even stronger in the years to come,” Modi tweeted yesterday about his three-nation visit.

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