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Indian Army Chief begins crucial visit to Sri Lanka

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NEW DELHI (PTI): Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat has begun a four-day visit to Sri Lanka with an aim to take forward the military cooperation between the two countries to the "next level".

Gen Rawat's maiden visit to the island nation as the Army Chief comes amid growing concern in the security establishment here about China's persistent efforts to expand its influence over Colombo.

The Army said Gen Rawat will hold talks with top political and military leadership of Sri Lanka and explore new areas of military-to-military cooperation between the ground forces of the two countries.

"He is scheduled to meet the senior-most political and military hierarchy of Sri Lanka. The visit assumes significance in light of India's persistent efforts to strengthen the existing bonds of friendship and military cooperation based on mutual interests and understanding," the Army said in a statement on Monday.

It said the focus of the visit would be to take forward the military-to-military cooperation between the two countries to the "next level".

In December last, Sri Lanka had handed over the control of the southern sea port of Hambantota to China on a 99-year lease, triggering concerns here.

Sri Lanka had later clarified that the port will not be used as a military base and it will not engage in any activities which may harm India's security interests.

Apart from meeting the senior leadership of the three services of Sri Lanka, Gen Rawat is also scheduled to meet the regional military commanders in Kandy and Trincomalee, Army officials said.

The regional commanders of the Lankan army are considered very influential in military matters.

The Army said the visit of Gen Rawat is reflective of India's persistent efforts to strengthen the existing bonds of friendship and military cooperation based on mutual interests and understanding.

"Indian Army has been catering not only for varied training requirements of the Sri Lankan Army, including imparting specific tailor-made training in different fields, but also providing military hardware support," the Army said.

The Chief of the Army Staff will be inaugurating a communication laboratory at School of Signals in Kandy.

The laboratory has been established by the Indian Army to train the personnel of Sri Lanka Army's Signal Corps.

General Rawat will also be visiting the Sri Lanka Military Academy in Diyatalawa.

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