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US and Sri Lanka sign military pact

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The United States and Sri Lanka on Monday signed the much delayed and controversial Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) providing for mutual logistical support during humanitarian missions, peace keeping operations, and joint military exercises.

ACSA was signed in Colombo by the US Ambassador, Robert Blake, and the Sri Lankan Defense Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, a release from the US embassy said.

But the release made it clear that the agreement was not a military one by any means.

This is critical since anything to the contrary can complicate the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, where the LTTE has been insisting that the very basis of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) or peace is balance of military power between itself and the Sri Lankan armed forces.

"The categories of allowable goods and services include food, petroleum and transportation. The provision of weapons systems or ammunition is expressly prohibited under this agreement. Each nation's forces can support the other during contingencies, such as disaster relief, or peace keeping operations, which reduces the logistics requirement for each nation," the US embassy said.

"The agreement will be in effect for ten years, and all transactions must be mutually agreed upon before any transfer is made," it added.

Giving an example of cooperation and exchange under ACSA, Ambassador Blake said that if Sri Lankan troops, going to assist Pakistan in its earthquake relief work, wanted winter clothes, the US could supply these, and in return, get fuel and foodstuffs when a US vessel called at Colombo port.

According to political sources, ACSA between Sri Lanka and the US had been on hold for years because of India's objections. Earlier, India thought that it would give the American military a foothold in its backyard or area of influence. But since the great improvement in relations between India and the US in recent years, and since the US and India began to see each other as strategic and economic partners in the emerging Asian order, India shed its objections to the agreement.

The US has ACSA with 89 other countries.

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