President Abdulla Yameen has agreed to “explore the possibility” of giving innocent passage to Sri Lankan fishing vessels through Maldivian waters under the UN Law of the Sea, the Sri Lankan government has said.
Yameen is currently on a three-day official state visit to the Maldives’ closest neighbour.
During the visit, the president is also reported to have revealed his decision to reject the US proposal for a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which some had feared would see the establishment of a US military base in the country.
“There have been discussions before… we are not going to pursue it,” Yameen was quoted as telling media in Colombo.
Minister at the President’s Office Mohamed Hussain Shareef has told media the agreement was rejected for fear of upsetting both Sri Lanka and India.
“We have told them that we can’t do it because both India and Sri Lanka are also not happy with it,” Shareef was quoted as saying.
An arrangement to allow the use of Maldivian waters for Sri Lankan vessels was made during President Mohamed Nasheed’s term, being met with harsh criticism from Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) – the parent party of President Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).
The issue was debated in the parliament at the time, with some MPs saying that the Maldives did not have the capacity to identify and stop foreign vessels fishing illegally fishing, and that such an agreement could further complicate monitoring of the economic zone.
According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, there should not be any fishing activities during an ‘innocent passage’ through territorial sea of a country.
Just two weeks after he concluded a visit to neighboring India, Yameen is now visiting Sri Lanka following an invitation from his counterpart Mahindha Rajapaksa. Official talks between the two leaders have focused on expanding trade relations between the two countries and bilateral cooperation at international level.
Strengthening cooperation in areas including banking, finance, fisheries, agriculture, tourism, education, health, defence, maritime and culture were also discussed.
During the talks the two countries agreed to expedite the exchange of prisoners and to explore the possibility of removing travel visa requirements.
President Yameen assured the Maldives’ support to Sri Lanka at international and regional forums of common membership, and highlighted the importance of working together at international level in dealing with issues of mutual concern.
President Rajapaksa assured Sri Lanka’s support for development programs in Maldives, and agreed to provide more placements for Maldivian students in Sri Lankan universities, as well as offering training facilities in professional institutions and defence training centres.
Meeting the Sri Lankan Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen, Yameen discussed the importance of reviving the Sri Lanka-Maldives Joint Economic Commission at the earliest opportunity. Sri Lankan Fisheries Minister Dr Rajitah Senaratne also urged the Maldives to purchase boats from Sri Lanka.
Three agreements were signed between Maldives and Sri Lanka following the official talks – a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on combating Transnational Crime and Developing Police Cooperation between Sri Lanka and the Maldives, an MoU for Vocational Training and Skills Development between Sri Lanka and the Maldives and an MoU on Sports Cooperation between Sri Lanka and Maldives.