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Sri Lanka rules out defence deal with Pakistan

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COLOMBO (PTI): Sri Lanka has firmly ruled out any defence cooperation pact with Pakistan although they maintained very strong military ties during the height of the ethnic war in the country.

Gotabhaya Rajapakse, the powerful defence secretary, said the government did not discuss the possibility of a Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA) during the recent four-day visit by Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari.

"President Mahinda Rajapakse had not discussed any defence-related proposal with his Pakistani counterpart," the privately-run Island newspaper quoted the Defence Secretary on Wednesday, who is also the president's younger brother.

The Island said the defence secretary dismissed what he called unsubstantiated media reports on a post-war DCA between Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

However, a joint statement issued by Pakistan and Sri Lanka at the end of Zardari's visit last month said they had agreed to promote a dialogue on, among other things, defence and security issues.

Zardari, who held closed-door talks with President Rajapakse, discussed increasing trade and defence cooperation, the president's office said on November 28.

It gave no details of the defence cooperation, but Pakistan was a main supplier of arms and ammunition when government forces were locked in combat with Tamil Tiger rebels.

Pakistan provided heavy weapons that were used to crush the Tamil Tigers in May last year which brought an end to their 37-year violent struggle for a Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka.

Gotabhatya told the Sri Lankan daily that his brother's government had not entered into any DCA during the fighting with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), though the country acquired arms, ammunition and equipment from several countries, including Pakistan.

"In the aftermath of our victory over the LTTE in May last year, we'll have to review our defence needs and equipment," he said.

"For over 30 years, we have been buying armaments from different sources depending on our requirement, financial terms and the availability," the secretary said.

Commenting on Opposition allegations of increased defence spending after the war ended last year, Rajapakse said armed forces could not be disbanded or drastically reduced although the LTTE posed no conventional military threat.

The government allocated Rs. 215 billion (USD 1.92 billion for defence for 2011, or about one fifth of the national budget, the paper said.

Gotabhatya said that country had no option but to keep defence spending high because of hefty installment payments on military hardware bought over the years.

The 200,000-member strong army would take the lion?s share of the defence budget, the Defence Secretary said.

The army will absorb just over half of the entire defence spending to maintain its personnel. He said that re-positioning of security forces in a post-war era was a costly business as new bases and cantonments were needed to accommodate troops in the Northern and Eastern provinces.

"This is a very high priority. Unlike during the war, troops cannot be given makeshift shelter," he said.

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