NEW DELHI - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid homage to the victims of deadly Easter suicide attacks by Islamist militants in Colombo as he called for global efforts to tackle the threat of terrorism during a visit to two tiny Indian Ocean countries, the Maldives and Sri Lanka.
The weekend visits are the first since Modi began his second term and come amid a concerted push by India to maintain its influence in the strategic Indian Ocean region, where Chinese presence has grown in recent years.
The Indian leader prayed and placed flowers at St. Anthony's Shrine in Colombo, a Catholic church that was one of the targets of suicide bombers during a wave of attacks on hotels and churches which killed more than 250 people on Easter Sunday in April.
'I am confident Sri Lanka will rise again,' Modi tweeted after the visit. 'Cowardly acts of terror cannot defeat the spirit of Sri Lanka. India stands in solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka.'
Modi is the first foreign leader to visit the country since the attacks. "India never forgets her friends when they are in need," he tweeted.
He held talks with Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena. Indian intelligence agencies have been cooperating with Sri Lanka in investigating the attacks.
Earlier in the Maldives, Modi called for a global conference on terrorism on the lines of the climate conference for "plugging the loopholes that terrorists exploit." He said "state sponsorship" of terrorism is the biggest threat the world faces today, adding that there should be no distinction between a "good terrorist" and a "bad terrorist."
His first overseas trips to the two tiny countries just a week after he began his second term signaled India's intent to counter China, which has built a string of infrastructure projects in both the Maldives and Sri Lanka.
But as both countries struggle with debt incurred with the Chinese projects, India is offering assistance in a range of areas as it seeks to regain its influence in countries that counted as its traditional allies. Both the tiny nations are strategically located along some of the world's busiest shipping lanes.
Addressing Maldivian lawmakers on Sunday, Modi underscored the importance of the Indo-Pacific region, saying "it has been our lifeline, and also the highway for trade and prosperity." He said India is prioritizing a "neighborhood first" policy.
New Delhi's ties with Maldives had frayed in recent years but altered dramatically last September after the election of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih. He defeated Abdulla Yameen, whose pro-China stance had caused concern in New Delhi.
In a joint statement after talks with Modi. Solih pledged closer ties with New Delhi and reaffirmed what is called an "India-first" policy.
The Indian and Maldivian leaders inaugurated a coastal surveillance radar system and a training center for the Maldives defense forces. The two countries also signed agreements that included starting ferry services to connect the two countries, building port terminals and a new cricket stadium.