|President reiterates Government’s cautious approach to avoid civilian casualties|
|Thursday, 26 February 2009 13:58|
President Mahinda Rajapaksa has reiterated his Government’s consistent stand in preventing collateral damage being caused to civilians in the final phase of the current military operations to defeat terrorism in the country. He made this observation during a courtesy call on him by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nepal, Upendra Yadav in Colombo today (26 February 2009). Responding to a query as to the expected time-frame for the present military conflict to end, the President explained that the security forces are adopting a cautious approach in pursuing their operations against the terrorists in order to avoid causing civilian casualties. The visiting Foreign Minister is in Sri Lanka to attend the 31st Session of the SAARC Council of Ministers which will be inaugurated tomorrow (27 February 2009) by President Rajapaksa.
Later in the day, the Nepali Foreign Minister called on his Sri Lankan counterpart, Rohitha Bogollagama at the Foreign Ministry and held bilateral discussions, during which the whole gamut of relations between the two countries was reviewed. Welcoming the visiting dignitary, Minister Bogollagama recalled the strong and friendly relations between Nepal and Sri Lanka, dating back to over 2550 years, since the birth of Lord Buddha, whose teachings have had a profound impact on the people of Sri Lanka.
45,000 Sri Lankan Buddhist pilgrims annually visit Nepal to pay homage to the sacred sites, hallowed by the footprints of Lord Buddha. He referred to the successful outcome of the recently concluded bilateral air services agreement, which would enable the commencement of the direct air links between Colombo and Kathmandu, and consequently expected the number of pilgrims travelling to Nepal to increase considerably.
Speaking further, the Minister said that the strong bilateral relations would receive a major impetus when President Rajapaksa undertakes an official visit to Nepal in early March, during which he will hold high level discussions with Nepali leaders.
Foreign Minister Bogollagama emphasized the need for closer collaboration between Nepal and Sri Lanka in the economic sphere, particularly to promote bilateral trade, investment and tourism. He noted that the two countries would be able to harness the synergies in their respective competencies towards enhancing bilateral cooperation. He also stated that Sri Lanka can cooperate with Nepal in the fields of health and education, and thanked the Government of Nepal for facilitating Sri Lankan students to pursue medical studies in Nepal. The Minister spoke of the strong professional expertise that Sri Lanka possesses in the hospitality industry, which could be availed of by Nepali students to help develop this sector in Nepal.
Referring to the forthcoming SAARC Council of Ministers meeting in Colombo, the Minister highlighted two areas which would receive priority attention of the SAARC Foreign Ministers, namely the need to strengthen measures to combat terrorism and ways and means of minimizing the adverse impact of the current global financial crisis and the consequent economic downturn. He stated that Sri Lanka and Nepal share a common platform in many regional and international fora, such as the SAARC, BIMSTEC, NAM, G-77 where both countries collaborate closely. He sought Nepal’s support for Sri Lanka’s bid to host the BIMSTEC Secretariat in Colombo.
Responding to Minister Bogollagama’s remarks, the Nepali Foreign Minister Upendra Yadav highlighted the spiritual element in the historical and longstanding ties between Nepal and Sri Lanka, given the deep rooted cultural and religious affinity binding the two countries by the common thread of Buddhism. The Nepali Minister referring to the excellent bilateral relations, quipped that the relationship is characterized by “zero problems”. He said that Sri Lankans constitute the largest number of foreign pilgrims visiting Lumbini, and explained that the Nepali Government is undertaking a plan to develop this sacred area as a centre of civilization. He said that the Government and people of Nepal are keenly looking forward to the forthcoming visit of President Rajapaksa to Nepal, which will be a significant milestone in further enhancing the warm and friendly ties between Sri Lanka and Nepal.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
26 February 2009