Sri Lanka is negotiating a fresh military cooperation deal with the United States, its Prime Minister announced in parliament Wednesday, July 10, even as the country’s president vowed to veto any agreement.
“I will not allow the SOFA that seeks to betray the nation. Some foreign forces want to make Sri Lanka one of their bases. I will not allow them to come into the country and challenge our sovereignty,” Sirisena, who faces an election this year, said at a rally last weekend.
His comments came days after President Maithripala Sirisena said he would not let the government headed by his pro-West arch-rival conclude any deal giving US forces freer access to Sri Lanka.
Ranil Wickremesinghe said the government was discussing a replacement for a 1995 Status of Forces arrangements that would allow the militaries of the two countries to access each other’s ports and airports with fewer formalities.
The US and Sri Lankan militaries can already access each other’s ports and airports under the 2007 Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA).
The United States last year granted $39 million for maritime security to Sri Lanka as China increases its presence in the strategic region.
Wickremesinghe denied that the new SOFA would lead to a permanent US presence on the island. “The US navy is not a fleet of fishing trawlers. They don’t need any bases (in Sri Lanka),” he said.
China has vowed to keep providing financial help, including loans, to Sri Lanka despite warnings about the nation’s mounting debt.