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* Sri Lankan President and BIMSTEC leaders pledge to strengthen bilateral relations
Wed, Mar 5, 2014, 10:17 pm SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

Mar 05, Colombo: Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa held bilateral discussions with several leaders on the sidelines of the third BIMSTEC Summit in Myanmar.

During these discussions the leaders of the seven BIMSTEC nations agreed to strengthen existing relations both within and outside the BIMSTEC framework in all areas where there is potential for cooperation.

For the first meeting President Rajapaksa met the Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh at the Myanmar International Convention Center.

The two leaders exchanged views on matters of mutual interest as well as fishermen issue between the two countries and cooperation between the Sri Lankan government and the Northern Provincial Council.

Bilateral discussions with the Myanmar President U Thein Sein took place at the Presidential Palace.

President Rajapaksa while noting that this is the third time he was visiting Myanmar congratulated the Myanmar President for the successful conclusion of the third BIMSTEC Summit.

The President recalling the longstanding historical and cultural relations between Myanmar and Sri Lanka said "Myanmar was one of the first countries to open an embassy in Colombo after Sri Lanka gained independence in 1948".

President Rajapaksa said time has come to identify new areas of cooperation.He proposed to set up a joint commission and establish direct air links between the two countries. The importance of maintaining political dialogue at the high level as well as people-to-people contacts was also emphasized.

President U Thein Sein while welcoming President Rajapaksa's idea to set up a joint commission expressed Myanmar's willingness to learn from Sri Lanka's rich experience in the areas of education, management, tea and rubber cultivation and ports development.

"We are close brothers. We should continue this candid and open dialogue," said the Myanmar President. He also expressed his solidarity with Sri Lanka at international fora. President Rajapaksa apprised the Myanmar President of the progress achieved by Sri Lanka following the defeat of terrorism. The Myanmar President updated the Sri Lankan President on the political transformations that are taking place in his country after returning to the democratic rule three years ago.

President Rajapaksa and the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina met for bilateral discussions at the Myanmar International Convention Center on Tuesday (March 04). During the bilateral discussion the Bangladesh Prime Minister expressed gratitude for the assistance received from Sri Lanka in the aftermath of recent natural disasters in her country.

Bilateral discussions between President Rajapaksa and Prime Minister of Nepal, Sushil Koirala was held at the Myanmar International Convention Center. President Rajapaksa congratulated the Nepal Prime Minister on his election to the high office and offered Sri Lanka's support for the development process in Nepal. The President highlighted investment, trade, education, and information technology as areas for strengthening further cooperation.

President Rajapaksa requested Nepal's assistance to the Lumbini Development Project initiated by the Speaker of the Parliament of Sri Lanka. While thanking Nepal for its support extended to Sri Lanka at international fora President Rajapaksa explained how Sri Lanka is being subjected to undue pressure over human rights issues by the external forces.

The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is a regional grouping of seven South and South East Asian countries: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

(Photos by Sudath Silva)

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