Sri Lanka expelled the Colombo station chief of India’s spy agency in the run-up to this month’s presidential election, political and intelligence sources said, accusing him of helping the opposition oust President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
An Indian foreign ministry spokesman denied any expulsion and said that transfers were routine decisions. Rajapaksa, voted out of office in the Jan 8 election, said he did not know all the facts while the new government in Colombo has said it is aware of the reports but cannot confirm them.
But several sources in both Colombo and New Delhi said India was asked to recall the agent in December for helping gather support for joint opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena after persuading him to ditch Rajapaksa’s cabinet.
A sketchy report in Sri Lanka’s Sunday Times newspaper on December 28 said that “links with the common opposition” had cost India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) station chief his job in Colombo.
India has often been involved in the internal politics of the small island nation off its southern coast – it sent troops there in 1987 in a botched effort to broker peace between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels.
Rajapaksa’s unexpected defeat after two terms in office coincided with growing concern in India that it was losing influence in Sri Lanka because of the former president’s tilt toward regional rival China.
The concern turned to alarm late last year when Rajapaksa allowed two Chinese submarines to dock in Sri Lanka without warning New Delhi as he should have under a standing agreement, the sources said.
Sirisena, the new president, has said he will visit New Delhi on his first foreign trip next month and has said India is the “first, main concern” of his foreign policy.
An Indian official said the RAW agent was recalled after complaints that he had worked with Sri Lanka’s usually fractious opposition parties to agree on a joint contender for the election. Then, he was accused of facilitating meetings to encourage several lawmakers, among them Sirisena, to defect from Rajapaksa’s party, the official said.
The agent was accused of playing a role in convincing the main leader of the opposition and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe not to contest against Rajapaksa in the election and stand aside for someone who could be sure of winning, said the officer and a Sri Lankan lawmaker who also maintains close contacts with India.