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Brothers in arms? Indian army chief tours Sri Lanka

Naravane with Shavendra Silva

The head of the Indian army continued his tour of Sri Lanka this week, donating training equipment to the military, witnessing a large scale joint training exercise and meeting with several senior officials accused of war crimes.

The visiting Chief of the Army Staff of the Indian Army, General Manoj Mukund Naravane, met with Sri Lanka’s president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, army chief Shavendra Silva and defence secretary Kamal Gunaratne all of whom stand accused of mass atrocities and overseeing the slaughter of tens of thousands of Tamils.

Silva is currently banned from entry in the United States over his involvement in war crimes and the execution of surrendering Tamils in 2009.

Naravane salutes Mahinda Rajapaksa

Naravane with Kamal Gunaratne

In addition to the meetings, Naravane watched on as 120 Jawans of the Indian Army joined Sri Lankan troops in final mock demonstration of the military joint exercise ‘Mitra Shakthi VIII’. The Indian High Commission in Sri Lankan called it “the biggest bilateral army exercise in the region”. 

“Army personnel of both organizations participated in tactical level operations at the sub-unit level in an international counter-insurgency manoeuver and counter-terrorism environment amid crossfires, backed by armoured tanks, buffels and helicopters of the Sri Lanka Air Force,” said the Sri Lankan military.

“General Manoj Mukund Naravane and General Shavendra Silva closely watched the near 40-minute Exercise with intense enthusiasm as respective troops went into action torpedoing enemy hideouts during the mock Exercise.”

Earlier in his visit, Naravane had inaugurated two simulator facilities – including a firing simulators usable for training sessions at the Marksmanship and Sniper Training School (MSTS) - which have been gifted to the Sri Lankan army.

“Gift from a friend!!” posted the Indian High Commission on social media.

Naravane flanked by Sinhala Kandyan dancers.

India continues to maintain close military ties with Sri Lanka, with Naravane telling Gotabaya Rajapaksa that “annually India gives training to nearly 1000 Sri Lanka military Officers”.

“In addition, the Indian Army in response to a request of General Shavendra Silva… would in future offer a specially-designed training module for 50 more military Officers in Sri Lanka,” he continued.

Another much publicised aspect of Naravane’s visit, was a trip to the Sinhala Buddhist religious site of the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, where senior Sri Lankan military officials escorted him.

Today, Naravane is in Trincomalee, where he is scheduled to meet with more military officials, before concluding his five-day tour of the island.

This is not Naravane’s first visit to the island.

“This is my first visit to Sri Lanka in my present capacity,” he told reporters on arrival. “But I have witnessed the strengthening relationship between the two militaries since my days as a junior leader when I was here as part of the IPKF.”

The IPKF – Indian Peace Keeping Force – was an Indian military contingent sent to the island from 1987 until 1990. The contingent is infamous for its use of sexual violence, rape and massacres of Tamil civilians.

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