India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives are set to revive their trilateral maritime security cooperation dialogue when National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval visits Colombo on Friday for the first meeting of the group since 2014, people familiar with developments said on Thursday.
As part of efforts by the three countries to expand maritime security cooperation in the Indian Ocean, three more countries—Bangladesh, Seychelles and Mauritius—have been invited as observers for the meeting, people in New Delhi and Male said on condition of anonymity.
The revival of the dialogue, which was suspended after India’s relations with the Maldives soured under the previous Abdulla Yameen regime, has been on the cards since the Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka in 2019 that were claimed to have been perpetrated by the Islamic State.
As the Maldives does not have an NSA, the Indian Ocean archipelago will be represented by defence minister Mariya Didi, the people said.
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“This is the fourth edition of the trilateral meeting, and the last one was held in 2014. Seychelles, Mauritius and Bangladesh will be present as observers at Sri Lanka’s invitation,” one of the people cited above said.
Doval’s two-day visit to Sri Lanka will be his second trip to the island nation this year. He visited Colombo in January, when he held talks with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on national and maritime security, intelligence-sharing, and regional collaboration.
It could not immediately be ascertained who would represent Sri Lanka at the dialogue. The country’s national security council is currently chaired by the president. The level of participation by Seychelles, Mauritius and Bangladesh too couldn’t immediately be ascertained.
The meeting is being held against the backdrop of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean and its efforts to step up defence linkages with smaller countries in the region, as well as the India-China border standoff.
The first trilateral maritime security cooperation dialogue was held in Male in 2011. Two more meetings were held in Colombo in 2013 and New Delhi in 2014, and Mauritius and Seychelles were present as observers at the last meet. The dialogue was suspended after relations between India and the Maldives hit a low, largely because of the actions of former president Abdulla Yameen, who was perceived as close to China.
In the past meetings, the three countries had discussed cooperation on issues such as maritime domain awareness, sharing of data on shipping, training, search and rescue, response to oil pollution, piracy and illegal maritime activities.
In September, India provided a Dornier maritime surveillance aircraft to the Maldives National Defence Force (MDNF). The aircraft is expected to boost efforts to keep a closer eye on the movement of Chinese vessels in regional waters. At the time, Indian officials had said the aircraft will also play a role in counter-terrorism efforts, especially after terror attacks at the harbour of Mahibadhoo Island in the central Maldives on April 15.
During Rajapaksa’s visit to India in November last year, India had offered Sri Lanka a line of credit of $50 million to fight terrorism and enhance intelligence gathering in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday suicide attacks by Islamic State-linked terrorists that killed 258 people.
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