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Rajapaksa to leave for Russia on official visit

[TamilNet, Friday, 5 February 2010 12:59 No Comment]

The re-elected Sri Lanka President, Mahinda Rajapaksa is leaving on an official trip to Russia. The fact that Mr. Rajapaksa has chosen Moscow as the first destination of his foreign travel after securing a resounding second endorsement from the people of the island nation has not gone unnoticed here in the political and diplomatic circles.

“Of course the analysts and Lanka watchers would read meanings into the first official visit of the President abroad. But the simple truth is there is a long standing invitation from the Russian President. In the course of his visit a couple of bilateral agreements between the two countries could be signed”, a close aide of Mr. Rajapaksa told The Hindu.

Foreign policy

During the four years of his first stint, Mr. Rajapaksa was unconventional in his foreign policy. “Within the broad parameters of the independent and non-aligned foreign policy of the island nation, most actions of the President in pursuing relations with the foreign countries during his stint from 2006 to 2009 were essentially guided by the expediency of war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

“In the remaining one year of his first term and the six years of the fresh term, his focus on the foreign policy front would be on securing assistance in strengthening the much needed infrastructure in vital sectors to give fillip to the war ravaged economy of Sri Lanka. He would reach out to any and every country in the globe that is ready to lend a helping hand in advancing the goal”, the aide said.

The west in general and the United States in particular have been critical of some of the initiatives of Mr. Rajapaksa on the foreign policy front. For instance his travels to countries like Iran and Libya were perceived as a sign of defiance. However, the explanation of his managers was that the sole criteria of Mr. Rajapaksa in pursuance of his relations with the rest of the world was the ‘national interest’ of Sri Lanka.

I-Day speech

In his Independence Day speech at Kandy on Thursday Mr. Rajapaksa broadly outlined the foreign policy vision of his regime. It read, “You all are aware that our foreign policy is independent and non-aligned. It is no secret that we have maintained close friendly relationships with our neighbours such as India, China, Japan and others. We also maintain close affinity with Africa, the West, the Middle East and the European countries.

“In my foreign policy, whatever I have done was in the interest of the people of this country. Now the world should have a correct opinion about us. The Tiger terrorism that impacted on other countries too has ended. The state of war is now over. We are entering into a new era of co-existence after finishing the period of some controversy. I would like to say that we are now entering the golden era of international relations”.

The aide of Mr. Rajapaksa said that it would be endeavour of the President to put on `even keel’ relations with the US and the west. “Relations between Sri Lanka and the west in the last four years were marked by an atmosphere of distrust. The obsessive focus of the west on the so called human rights record of the Government unmindful on one hand of the reality that Sri Lanka was engaged in one of the bloodiets wars and on the other with scant regard to their own track record in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq where their troops are engaged in military operations were primary factors responsible for the deficit trust”.

Contentious issues

The official pointed to an op-ed piece by Mr. Rajapaksa in the February 3 issue of the Wall Street Journal is an effort to amplify the position of his regime on some of the contentious issues and reach out to the west. Titled `Sri Lanka Looks to the Future’ Mr. Rajapaksa it outlines his understanding of the January 26 Presidential election and that the challenges that lie ahead of him.

It reads, “January 26 was an historic day for Sri Lanka. It was the first presidential election for more than 25 years that was unaffected by the terrorism and intimidation of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, otherwise known as the Tamil Tigers. The overwhelming majority of Sri Lankans who exercised their democratic right last Tuesday voted for an end to division, an end to terrorism and for a new beginning of peace and prosperity. I am proud that the election was well fought, but peaceful on voting day.

“But this victory is merely the start for Sri Lanka. After removing terrorism from our country, I sought a full mandate from my people. Now I shall seek to work to build our nation for all of them; to make the nation stronger and more able to succeed in today’s globalized world.

“I know as well as anyone that our future success relies on a lasting peace. The removal of terrorism was an important milestone in this process, but the nation needs to be bound by a common purpose. That purpose will be built around a full reconciliation program. My new government will address the genuine grievances of all communities and bolster the enforcement of equal rights for all. We will emphasize better police training to meet the new conditions of peace, and boost representation from all groups in Sri Lankan society.

“More importantly, the lasting peace will unlock the true potential of Sri Lanka and provide a range of opportunities for all of our people. Already the International Monetary Fund has upgraded Sri Lanka to a "middle-income emerging market," and our economy is now the second fastest growing in Asia. With our educated workforce and our strategic trading position, I intend to make good on predictions that Sri Lanka can become South Asia’s Singapore-or better”.

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