The decision of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to skip the 64th Session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York commencing on Monday has raised brows in the diplomatic and political circles here. Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake is leading the delegation.
Observers here feel that his absence at the Summit of heads of state in New York would be highly conspicuous as since the military defeat of the LTTE in May Colombo has assiduously worked to market the message across the globe that terrorism could be defeated.
“New York would have provided the ideal platform for Mr. Rajapaksa to show case the success of his country on the terrorism front. And yet Mr. Rajapaksa has taken a deliberate decision not to travel to New York and there must be some compelling reasons”, a senior western diplomat told The Hindu.
The President’s office remained tight-lipped. “A combination of external and internal factors like concerns on security, the continuing deficit trust between Colombo and the West on the one hand and the U.N. on the other on a variety of issues like the pace of the re-settlement of the nearly 2.5 lakh war displaced and human rights and election to the Southern Provincial Council scheduled on Tuesday have contributed to the considered decision of Mr. Rajapaksa to depute his PM to New York,” said a senior official who did not want to be identified.
The Foreign Ministry said Mr. Wickramanayake would address the General Assembly on September 26 on the “Strengthening of Multilateralism and Dialogue among Civilizations for International Peace, Security and Development” and meet Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
He will also address the Asia Society in New York on the theme “Sri Lanka’s Challenges ahead: Post LTTE Scenario and Ensuring Sustainable Peace”. He is being accompanied by Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama and senior officials.
The Prime Minister would participate at the High Level Event on Climate Change and the 4th Summit of the Heads of States/ Governments of the Group of 15 (G 15) where Sri Lanka assumes the Chair.
Mr. Bogollagama would lead the delegation to the Commonwealth Meetings of the Foreign Ministers, and on Terrorism, and the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG).
Mr. Bogollagama is also scheduled to hold a series of bilateral meetings with his South Asian counterparts from Bhutan, India and the Maldives. and meet High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy & Secretary General of the Council of the European Union Javier Solana, Commissioner for External Relations & European Neighbourhood Policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner and Secretary General of the Commonwealth Kamalesh Sharma.
In Mr. Bogollagama’s interactions with the United Nations, he is scheduled to meet Under Secretary General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe, Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Sir John Holmes, Under Secretary General & Special Representative for Children & Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy and the Executive Director General of the UNICEF Ann Veneman.
“Special focus is envisaged on the developments relating to the post-conflict phase in Sri Lanka and the ways and means Sri Lanka’s friends in the international community could cooperate in the efforts of the Government’s endeavours in reconstruction, resettlement, rehabilitation and reconciliation,” said the Ministry.
Separately, addressing a group of state bank officials at his official residence on Saturday, Mr. Rajapaksa said no soldier who heeded his orders as the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces needs to worry as he was prepared to take the full responsibility of those orders and appear before any judiciary on their behalf.
“The President reminded the gathering the two provinces which were under the jack boot of the terrorists by sacrificing the precious lives of 26,000 youth who were also wanted for the development of this country. He said in this heroic struggle another 5000 also lost their limbs,” said a report posted on the Defence Ministry website.
The President said there was “conspiracy after conspiracy” to downgrade the feat achieved by the armed forces.
Meanwhile, the government said arrangements were in place for the resettlement of another 3,000 war displaced, currently housed in government run relief camps in the north, in the next few days.