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US navy to transfer cargo for ships at Sri Lanka’s main airport

The United States navy will begin an operation to transfer its cargo between planes at Sri Lanka’s main airport in Colombo, where goods will then be sent to its vessels at sea.

The transfer operation, scheduled for later this month, will only see “non-lethal supplies” transferred between aircraft, according to a US embassy press release, and is the third reported operation to have taken place in the last few months.

Similar transfer operations also took place in August and December 2018, at the Bandaranaike International Airport and in Trincomalee.

“Several U.S. naval aircraft are scheduled to land and depart from the commercial airport, bringing in a variety of non-lethal supplies,” said the US embassy in a statement on Wednesday.

“Supplies may include personal mail for sailors, paper goods, spare parts and tools, and other items,” it added. “No cargo, military equipment, or personnel associated with this initiative will remain in Sri Lanka after the completion of the cargo transfer.”

Commenting on the operation US Ambassador Alaina Teplitz said,

“Sri Lanka's leaders have outlined their vision for the country’s regional engagement that reflects its location at the nexus of the Indo-Pacific and seizes the opportunities that this unique position presents.”

“We are happy to support this vision through a range of mutually beneficial initiatives, such as contracting Sri Lankan services and goods to support U.S. military and commercial vessels that often transit the Indo-Pacific’s busy sea lanes.”

It remains unclear as to whether Sri Lankan authorities will be involved in the transfer process.

The latest operation comes amidst increasing US – Sri Lanka military co-operation, which the embassy noted “encompasses a variety of joint exercises and training that has developed the skills and interoperability of both countries”.

The growing military relations between the two governments comes despite concerns of rights abuses committed by Sri Lankan troops, with none having been held accountable for the massacre of tens of thousands of Tamil civilians in 2009.

Earlier this month, a ranking member of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee expressed concern over the appointment of a Sri Lankan commander who led a military offensive in 2009, to chief of staff of the Sri Lankan army, stating that it could impact on the United States’ defence relationship with Colombo.