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Sri Lanka in major arms deals with China, Russia, India

Unmindful of India's opposition to Sri Lanka turning to Pakistan and China for military hardware to bolster its offensive against the Tamil Tigers, Colombo has recently inked several significant defence agreements with Beijing.

Citing exclusive access to an internal Sri Lankan cabinet document, Britain's renowned Jane's Defence Weekly reported that Sri Lanka had signed a classified $37.6 million deal with China's Poly Technologies in April to supply its defence forces with ammunition and ordnance for the army and navy in addition to varied small arms.

Gotabaya Rajapakse, the Sri Lankan defence secretary and a brother of President Mahinda Rajapakse, told Indian authorities May 30 that 'security compulsions' were driving Colombo to seek military equipment from China, Pakistan and other suppliers.

He is also believed to have informed India's security establishment that Colombo 'understood' New Delhi's internal political compulsions, foreclosing enhanced military co-operation between the neighbours.

The Sri Lankan official was reportedly making a direct reference to Tamil Nadu, which is separated from Sri Lanka by a strip of sea and where there is considerable support for the Tamil guerrillas.

Senior security officials concede that a bilateral defence agreement between Colombo and New Delhi drawn up over two years ago remains 'hostage' to India's Tamil concerns. This, in turn, forces Colombo to seek alternate weapon suppliers.

Janes' current edition says that Colombo has declined to renew its long standing agreement with China's North Industries Corporation (Norinco) for defence equipment, opting instead for Poly Technologies, founded as a rival in 1984 by Beijing's military establishment.

While outwardly a subsidiary of the China International Trust and Investment Corp, military analysts said that in reality the Beijing-based Poly Technologies was a 'front company' for China's military-industrial complex.

It reports to the armament department of the People's Liberation Army General Staff Department and is authorized to sell conventional military equipment including short and medium-range ballistic missiles.

While the reasons for the Sri Lankan government switching to Poly Technologies appear unclear, it seems the change was prompted by the debt of $200 million it owed Norinco, which has maintained a bonded warehouse in the southern port city of Galle since 1993.

Colombo's long-standing agreement with Norinco was exclusive, prohibiting it from sourcing specific military items from any another Chinese supplier.

The contract with Poly Technologies, however, contravenes this clause, seemingly invalidating the earlier agreement providing the Sri Lankan military an alternate materiel supplier, Jane's states.

The agreement with Poly Technologies, however, 'aims to avoid the development of any debt through a system of staggered payments', Jane's says, necessitating an advance 25 percent payment and the balance payable in 10 quarterly installments.

The largest single order with Poly Technologies is for 120 mm mortar shells for the army, of which 70,000 rounds are priced at $10.4 million.

Additional imports include 68,000 rounds of varied 152 mm artillery shell worth nearly $20 million besides 50,000 81 mm high-explosive mortar bombs for $3.7 million, all of which the army needs to reinforce its 'pro-active' military strategy against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The Sri Lankan navy's requirement valued at$ 2.7 million includes a varied range of ammunition like 100,000 14.5 mm cartridges, 2,000 RPG-7 rockets and 500 81 mm airburst mortar shells.

There are also 50 Type 82 14.5 mm twin-barrel naval guns, 200 Type 85 12.7 mm heavy machine guns, 200 Type 80 7.62 mm multipurpose machine guns, 1,000 Type 56-2 7.62 mm submachine guns and 1,000 Type 56 7.62 mm submachine guns, Jane's reports.

China, meanwhile, is also helping Sri Lanka augment its air defence capability following four recent strikes by the fledgling Tamil Tiger air force that has resulted in international airlines declining to operate night flights to Colombo.

Jane's declared that the China National Electronics Import Export Corp is to provide Sri Lanka a JY 11 3D radar for $5 million over the next few weeks once the site for its location near Colombo is ready.

It was Gotabaya Rajapakse, the defence secretary who concluded the contract for the radar for the Lanka Logistics and Technologies Co Ltd that he heads.

Colombo had initially ordered the JY 11 radar two years ago, making payments in advance but was forced to call off the deal following Indian protests that the system would 'over arch' into its air space.

Thereafter, India supplied Sri Lanka two Indra IN-PC-2D radars free of charge and is believed to have agreed to Colombo's request for at least one more following the spate of LTTE air raids.

The Indra radars have become a source of tension with India, with some Sri Lankan officials claiming they failed to detect the ingress by a Tamil Tiger propeller aircraft to an air force base outside Colombo in March. Three airmen were killed and 16 wounded in the attack.

Sri Lanka is also negotiating with the Chinese conglomerate for three additional mobile radars for use across the country as the second Tiger air strike was conducted against the government's Palaly military base in Jaffna peninsula.

In an associated development, Sri Lanka is also planning on acquiring an unspecified number of MiG 29 fighters to boost its air power.

The director of Aeronautical Engineering, Air Vice Marshal Prashantha de Silva, is scheduled to visit Moscow to discuss the acquisition, states Jane's.

Indian defence sources said New Delhi, which also operates at least three MiG 29 squadrons, could play an 'important' role in Sri Lanka's proposed purchase of similar fighters by agreeing to provide training, spares, servicing and other logistic back-up.
Sri Lankan officials are also planning visiting Ulan Ude in Russia to negotiate the purchase of four helicopter gunships and to Ukraine for talks on overhauling and possibly upgrading An 32 transport aircraft.

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