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Sri Lanka "hurt" by Indian visa on arrival exclusion

COLOMBO, Feb. 13 (Xinhua) -- Sri Lanka's government expressed " serious concern" and "hurt" here on Thursday over India's decision not to allow Sri Lankans visa on arrival.

Responding to questions, Sri Lanka government Spokesman and Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella noted he is personally disappointed and it was a move that will "leave a bad taste" but stressed that greater diplomatic engagement was needed to resolve differences between the two governments.

"I'm sure the External Affairs Ministry will look into this and engage with the Indian Foreign Ministry. Personally I'm shaken by it," he told reporters, insisting that as Sri Lanka's closest neighbor and largest trade partner the move was regrettable.

India will extend visa-on-arrival to tourists of all nations barring eight, including Sri Lanka, Sudan and Iran, as it looks to boost tourism, Indian media reported last week quoting Planning Minister Rajeev Shukla.

"We have decided to extend the visa-on-arrival facility to tourists from 180 nations. It will take five to six months for the respective departments to put the required infrastructure in place. We hope to implement this from the next tourist session beginning October," he had said.

India currently offers visa-on-arrival to tourists from 11 countries like Finland, the Philippines, Singapore and Japan. The only exception to the new rule will be nationals from Pakistan, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Somalia.

India has denied that exempting Sri Lanka from the scheme was preconceived.

Indo-Sri Lanka relations have not been the warmest of late with Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh skipping the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting hosted by Sri Lanka in November.

India has been strongly concerned over delayed political rights and power devolution promised to Sri Lanka's minority Tamil population after the end of a three-decade war in 2009. The issues include allegations of war crimes, credible reconciliation and accountability measures in Sri Lanka and fishing issues in the waters shared by the two countries.

However, Rambukwella denied that there was a significant rift between the two nations.