We are India's ideal partner in Indian Ocean: Seychelles president

 James Michel, Manmohan SinghNew Delhi, June 4 : Seychelles is India's ideal partner in efforts to establish peace and stability in the Indian Ocean, which is currently plagued by piracy, James Michel, president of the archipelago nation said here.

"I think Seychelles and India have an important role to play in establishing peace, stability in the region," Michel, who was on a three-day visit to India, said before leaving the capital Thursday night.

He stressed that Seychelles was "strategically located in the Indian Ocean to be an ideal partner for India".

Michel, who was on his second visit to India, met Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Wednesday and they discussed a gamut of issues from fighting piracy to assistance in renewable energy.

India has also agreed to give a line of credit of $10 million to finance small business start-ups. A Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (BIPPA) was signed during the visit.

A teacher before he joined politics, Michel described how Seychelles was bearing the brunt of the effects of piracy, with its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) bordering the waters of Somalia. The tiny nation's two major industries, tourism and fishing, have shown a sharp decline ever since pirate attacks became frequent in the region in the last two years.

"We are at the forefront… But there is only so much we can do as a small country with limited resources," he said.

India, Michel pointed out, has been especially responsive to his country's request for assistance.

"We appreciate the help that is being given by India in terms of equipment being gifted to us and also Indian warships helping us in joint patrolling, as well as in training of our forces," he said.

The Seychelles president noted that a fast attack craft Topaz gifted by India had recently been instrumental in capturing nine pirates, rescuing eight Seychellois fishermen and 21 Iranian sailors.

India has also offered help in setting up solar farms in the islands. "The prime minister told me yesterday (Wednesday) that India will give all assistance in terms of research, new technology," he said.

The 65-year-old president visited The Energy and Research Institute (TERI) and found the research on climate change and global warming "very interesting".

"The research they are doing is relevant. We have agreed to exchange ideas and also see if our universities can partner," said Michel.

The Pan-African e-network, India's flagship telemedicine and tele-education project in Africa, is already yielding results. "Before I came, some nurses graduated from some of the universities in India through this network," the Seychelles president said.

There are already 20 Seychellois students in India. "We have been told that India will be granting more scholarships," he said.

Seychelles was also hoping to have direct air links with India and were negotiating a bilateral services agreement. "We are trying to encourage Indian airlines to come to Seychelles. For example, Jet airways flies to South Africa. We are persuading them to stop here," he said.

With increased connectivity, more and more Indians, Michel hoped, would visit Seychelles for tourism and business. "Indians with affluence are going all over. Why not come to Seychelles? It is paradise," he said.(IANS)

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