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* Sri Lanka, Australia agree to expand bilateral relations, sets up Joint Working Group
Mon, Dec 17, 2012, 07:59 pm SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

Dec 17, Colombo: Sri Lanka and Australia today held discussions on a range of issues and agreed to enhance bilateral relations between the two countries in a number of sectors including defense, trade, investments, and tourism.

The discussions took place between the visiting Australian Foreign Minister Senator Bob Carr, who has arrived in Sri Lanka on a three day official tour, and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa when they met at the Temple Trees Monday.

During the meeting President Rajapaksa appreciated the cooperation received from Australia for the future development of Sri Lanka and the Australian FM pledged his government's continuous assistance to Sri Lanka.

The discussions touched upon a range of issues, including illegal migration, the 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) and economic relations between the two countries.

The two countries agreed to further expand cooperation in several fields including, defence, trade, investment, agriculture, education and culture.

Secretary to the President Mr. Lalith Weeratunga, External Affairs Minister Professor G.L. Peiris, Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs Mr. Karunatilaka Amunugama and Presidential Spokesman Mr. Mohan Samaranayake joined the discussion.

Senator Carr, who arrived in Colombo at the invitation of External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris, met his Sri Lankan counterpart Sunday at the Ministry for discussions prior to today's inauguration of the first meeting of the Joint Working Group on People Smuggling and Transnational Crime at the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development.

The first session of the Joint Working Group co-chaired by Secretary of Department of Immigration and Citizenship of Australia Martin Bowles, and Secretary to Ministry of Defence and Urban Development of Sri Lanka Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, opened a new chapter in defence and security relations between the two countries, the External Affairs Ministry said.

The discussions enabled an annual dialogue to discuss matters of mutual interest focused particularly on addressing the root causes, strengthening security and law enforcement co-operation, training and capacity building and public awareness campaigns to combat people smuggling. The Australian Minister has discussed a four-point plan to curb the people smuggling from Sri Lanka to Australia at the Joint Working Group meeting. The plan included intelligence sharing with Sri Lanka on smuggling operations, assistance to Sri Lankan Navy on on-water activities, and AU$ 45 million aid in next five years to rebuild Sri Lanka as a measure to reduce people smuggling.

Australia has agreed to work closely with the defence establishment of Sri Lanka to strengthen the established links on law enforcement co-operation in combating transnational crime and pledged further training opportunities for mid-career officers in the armed forces of Sri Lanka.

Senator Carr's discussions with the government ministers and senior officials also focused on the next year's Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) to be held in Colombo.

Prof. Peiris has given an update on the comprehensive work programme being prepared for hosting the meeting and Senator Carr has extended further assistance in sharing their knowledge of the Perth Meeting as the previous host.

Australia has also committed to send their top entrepreneurs to participate in the Commonwealth Business Forum.

Both countries have identified the need for a strong bilateral partnership in trade and investment relations and agreed to set up a Joint Commission to explore the opportunities.

During his three-day visit the Australian Foreign Minister has visited Galle and inspected the AusAID projects being carried in the South to advance the living standards of the people.

The Australian FM also had comprehensive discussions with the Minister of Economic Development and Secretary of Defence and Urban Development.

(Photos by Sudath Silva)

** Related Story :: Australia assists Sri Lanka to boost intelligence operations in combatting people smuggling



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