Sri Lankan president arrives in Pakistan

Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapakse arrived Friday for a three-day official visit to Pakistan, hoping to cement better trade and defense ties, officials said.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz welcomed Rajapakse at an airbase near the capital, Islamabad, where the Sri Lankan leader inspected a guard of honor. He's due to meet President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and sign agreements on tourism, culture, railways and education.

Analysts have said that Rajapakse could be looking to Pakistan to arm his country's ill-equipped military, which is facing the threat of a resurgent separatist war with Tamil Tiger rebels.

Sri Lanka's biggest and closest neighbor, India, does not supply offensive weapons to Sri Lanka due to domestic political constraints. India is home to 56 million ethnic Tamils. This often forces Sri Lanka to turn to India's rival Pakistan.

Lucian Rajakarunanayake, a director at the Sri Lankan president's media office, described Pakistan as a "trusted friend of Sri Lanka for decades."

"Pakistan has helped Sri Lanka at a crucial moment with regard to the war of separation. Sri Lanka would look forward to a continued assistance in the same manner," Rajakarunanayake told The Associated Press.

Pakistan was among the countries that provided emergency military assistance to Sri Lanka when the rebels came close to capturing Jaffna, in the Tamil heartland, in 2000. They were eventually beaten back by the Sri Lankan military, re-armed with Pakistani weapons.

Pakistani diplomats based in Colombo said Islamabad was open to discussing a weapons deal.

The Tamil Tigers began fighting in 1983 for a separate state for minority Tamils in Sri Lanka's northeast, claiming discrimination by the country's Sinhalese majority. The conflict took an estimated 65,000 lives until a cease-fire in 2002, reports the AP.

I.L.