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Oman oil minister excited to be part of Sri Lanka oil refinery project

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Mohammed bin Hamad al-Rumhy's comments may be taken to assume the sultanate's involvement may be back on track.

Hambantota, Sri Lanka

OMAN'S oil minister said on Sunday he was excited to be part of a Sri Lanka oil refinery project, an indication plans for the sultanate's involvement may be back on track.

The comments by Mohammed bin Hamad al-Rumhy came after an Omani official last week had denied the Middle Eastern country had agreed to invest in the project.

Mr Rumhy joined Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe at the laying of the foundation stone for the planned US$3.85 billion oil refinery at Hambantota on the south coast, which would be the island's biggest foreign direct investment.

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Sri Lanka originally said Oman's oil ministry planned to take a 30 per cent stake in the refinery, which will be built near a US$1.4 billion port controlled by China Merchants Port Holdings.

The India-based Accord Group is the main investor in the refinery project, through a Singapore entity it controls.

"We have Chinese investment, we have Indian investments, we have Oman interest for investment, and we have investment interest from many other countries," Mr Wickremesinghe said at the event. "It shows that Hambantota will become the multinational investment zone."

A senior Sri Lankan minister, who declined to be identified because he is not authorised to talk to the media, told Reuters Oman had given a commitment to invest in the refinery and there would not be any turning back.

But on Wednesday, Salim al-Aufi, the undersecretary of Oman's oil and gas ministry, said "no one on this side" was aware of the investment.

Sri Lanka's investment board said last week that another Oman entity, Oman Trading International, was willing to supply all of the refinery's feedstock needs and take on the marketing of the oil products it would produce.

Sri Lanka, India and China have been vying for political influence in Sri Lanka in recent years, with investment a key part of the battleground.

China is the biggest buyer of Omani oil. In January it imported about 80 per cent of Oman's crude exports, Oman government data shows.

An investment zone is planned by China Harbour Engineering Corp alongside the port. REUTERS