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Sri Lanka president says to veto military deal with US

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations at the National Convention Center in the Chinese capital Beijing on May 15, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

Sri Lanka's President Maithripala Sirisena has vowed that he will not allow his government to finalize a proposed military deal with the United States that will permit the American troops to have free access to the island country’s ports.

The Sri Lankan president’s strong opposition to the draft Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) came as the two countries are currently discussing it in an attempt to further strengthen their military ties.

“I will not allow any agreement that undermines our independence and sovereignty. Several agreements currently being discussed are detrimental to our country,” Sirisena said at a public rally in southern Sri Lanka on Saturday.

Critics say that the deal will allow Washington to press some demands that would impinge on Sri Lanka’s sovereignty. The US, they say, seeks exemption from licenses and such charges as customs duties and taxes as well as boarding and inspection of its ships and military aircraft within the island country, which is home to some 21 million people.

Furthermore, the US is purportedly asking for authorization for its servicemen to put on uniforms whilst “on duty” in any part of Sri Lanka while carrying arms and radio communications equipment.

“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 further said.

The Sir Lankan leader also stressed that there would not be bilateral agreements “against Sri Lanka's national interest” as long as he is in office until January next year. 

Back in April last year, Washington announced that it was granting Sri Lanka $39 million to boost maritime security in the island country as China has already developed its strategic hold there, which is a key link in Beijing’s ambitious “Belt and Road” infrastructure initiative.

Washington had halted arms sales to Sri Lanka during the height of the island's Tamil separatist war that concluded in 2009.

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