New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi said strong ties with Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka reflect India's foreign policy priorities of engaging closely with countries in the strategically important Indian Ocean region as he embarked on a five-day trip to the three island nations.
This will be the first bilateral visit by an Indian prime minister since 1981 to Seychelles, located 3,800 km from India, and the first since 1981 to Sri Lanka, separated from India by a narrow strip of sea.
"I am keenly looking forward to my tour... March 10-14," Modi said in his departure statement.
"We have a strong, multifaceted and important relationship with each (country) and they all occupy a very important place in our foreign policy.
"My visit to the three Indian Ocean Island countries reflects our foreign policy priorities in India's immediate and extended neighbourhood.
"India attaches paramount importance to strengthening relations with this region, which is vital for India's security and progress," he said.
In the Seychelles, his first stop, Modi will get a unique Gujarati-style welcome from the Gujarati NRIs in that country.
Modi said: "India's relationship with Seychelles has been built on the foundation of mutual trust and shared values.
"I am keenly looking forward to my meeting with President James Michel, a great friend of India."
On March 11-12, Modi will be in Mauritius, where he will be the chief guest at the Independence Day celebrations on March 12. He will also speak at the national assembly of Mauritius.
"I will be participating in the joint commissioning of India-built Offshore Patrol Vessel Barracuda, and in the beginning of construction work for the building of World Hindi Secretariat."
On the last leg, Modi will be in Sri Lanka on March 13 and 14 when he will hold talks with President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, whose government took office in January.
"My visit to Sri Lanka will be the first standalone prime ministerial visit to Sri Lanka since 1987," the year India and Sri Lanka signed a pact to end Tamil separatism. Indian troops then took on the Tamil Tigers.
After being quietly supportive of Sri Lanka's efforts to militarily crush the Tamil Tigers, who were vanquished in 2009, India-Sri Lanka relations went into a spin after then president Mahinda Rajapaksa began building up multi-faceted ties with Pakistan and China.
In an oblique reference to India, Rajapaksa alleged an international conspiracy after he was defeated in the January presidential election that brought Sirisena to power.
Modi pointed out that his meeting with Sirisena would be their second summit in a month. President Sirisena came to India last month, making New Delhi his first foreign destination after taking office.