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* Sri Lanka, Maldives agree to strengthen relations, combat transnational crime
Wed, Jan 22, 2014, 08:52 pm SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

Jan 22, Colombo: The governments of Sri Lanka and Maldives today agreed on strengthening and expanding bilateral relations and supporting each other in international fora.

The bilateral discussions spanning a wide variety of sectors took place this morning between the Sri Lankan delegation led by the President Mahinda Rajapaksa and visiting Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen and his delegation at the Presidential Secretariat in Colombo.

The President and First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa officially received President Yameen and the Maldivian First Lady Fathimath Ibrahim at the Presidential Secretariat.

The Sri Lankan Army fired a 21 gun salute in honor of President Yameen, followed by a guard of honor accorded to him by the Sri Lankan Navy.

President Rajapaksa commended President Yameen's government on the recent election victory last November and for the peaceful political transformation that took place in the island nation.

"I am confident that under your able guidance, the Maldivian people would prosper and the country would reach its full economic potential," President Rajapaksa said. "As the only two island nations in South Asia, we share many values and cultural traditions."

The President further added that visits between officials at the highest political levels serve to further strengthen the bonds of friendship between the two countries.

Speaking about the historical ties between Sri Lanka and Maldives, President Yameen, who is on a state visit to Sri Lanka, pointed out that to many Maldivians, Sri Lanka is often like a second home. Currently, there are more than 9,000 Maldivians living in Sri Lanka.

"Sri Lanka has always been a brother and ally," President Yameen said. "We are very grateful for the invaluable friendship."

President Rajapaksa thanked Maldives for its continuous support to Sri Lanka at international fora and President Yameen in return expressed hopes that his visit would further strengthen and expand trade relations between the two countries and assured Maldives' firm support to Sri Lanka at the international level.

During the bilateral discussions, the two delegations discussed a number of sectors relevant to both countries in addition to generally strengthening overall bilateral ties in the areas of health, tourism, air services, immigration and security.

President Yameen requested Sri Lanka to help enhance health and education facilities for the Maldivian population currently in Sri Lanka, stressing that Sri Lanka is popular among Maldivian students for pursuing higher education and is often the first choice for obtaining healthcare services.

The fishing sector was also discussed at length. Sri Lanka requested Maldives to grant permission for "innocent passage" for Sri Lankan fishermen sailing to the Arabian Sea. Fishermen would not engage in any fishing in Maldivian waters, but would, according to international laws of the sea, be able to sail in transit. Sri Lanka requested Maldives to also consider purchasing boats manufactured in Sri Lanka, noting that Sri Lankan manufacturers have already received recognition from countries such as Seychelles for producing high-quality vessels.

Following the bilateral talks, Sri Lanka and the Maldives signed three agreements to further cooperation between the two nations.

MoU on combating Transnational Crime and Developing Police Cooperation between Sri Lanka and the Maldives was signed by the Sri Lankan Inspector General of Police N.K. Ilangakoon, and the Police Commissioner Hussain Waheed.

MoU for Vocational Training and Skills Development between Sri Lanka and the was signed by the Minister of Youth Affairs and Skills Development of Sri Lanka, Dulles Alahapperuma, and the Maldivian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dunya Maumoon.

MoU on Sports Cooperation between Sri Lanka and Maldives was signed by the Minister of Sports Mahindananda Aluthgamage, and the Minister at the Maldivian President's Office Mohamed Hussain Shareef.

Senior Minister A.H.M. Fowzie, Ministers Prof. G.L. Peiris, Basil Rajapaksa, Maithripala Sirisena, Dullas Alahapperuma, Rishad Bathiyutheen, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, Bandula Gunawardena, Mahindananda Aluthgamage, High Commissioner of Sri Lanka in the Maldives Sarathchandra Dela and President's Chief of Staff Gamini Senarath comprised Sri Lankan delegation.

(Photos by Sudath Silva)

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