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Observing 60 years of bilateral relations between Nepal and Sri Lanka

By WS Pereira
As you are aware, Sri Lanka has maintained and expanded into a multifaceted and mutually rewarding historically admirable relationship with Nepal since the two countries established diplomatic relations on 1st July 1957.
Sixty years of diplomaws-perera..tic relations with Nepal is an important milestone in our bilateral ties. These relations have grown in strength to strength over the years across the spectrum to include cultural exchanges and people to people contact.
Relationship between Nepal and Sri Lanka has especially based on cultural and religious ties. Although we established formal diplomatic relations 60 years ago, people to people contacts between Nepal and Sri Lanka have existed for many centuries.
People of Sri Lanka consider Nepal as a very special place to visit as it is the birthplace of Prince Siddhartha who later became Gautama Buddha. Nepal has the honour of being called the birth place of Lord Buddha. Nepal is a holy land for Buddhists and every Buddhist once in their lifetime wants to pay a visit to Lumbini, a sacred place of Buddhists worldwide. These pilgrims as cultural emissaries from a friendly country have significantly contributed in promoting and enriching cultural and religious ties between the two countries. Analyzing the Sri Lankan tourists who visit Nepal yearly, the largest number, are pilgrims. The noble teachings of Lord Buddha have remained a constant source of inspiration to the Buddhist community in both Nepal and Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s association with Lumbini Development Trust has led it to construct an attractive Sri Lanka Maha Viharaya (i.e. Lanka Ramaya) and a Pilgrim Rest in Lumbini further deepening and promoting cultural ties between both countries.
The exchanges of high level visits started after the visit of late King Mahendra to Sri Lanka in 1957. After that, there have been several state visits by the leaders of both countries. In 1967, King Birendra, too visited Sri Lanka when he was still the crown prince.
Then Governor of Sri Lanka William Gopalawa attended the wedding ceremony of late King Birendra in 1970 and coronation of the king in 1975. In 1980 King Birendra and Queen Aishwarye had a state visit to Sri Lanka.
Late Sri Lankan Presidents J.R. Jayawardene and Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa paid state and official visits to Nepal in 1978 and 1988 respectively. Further, former Presidents Chandrika Bandaranayake Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapakse had paid state visits to Nepal, in 1999 & 2009 respectively.
The exchange of visits by the high level political leaders, academics and scholars, Businessmen, social workers and Buddhist philosophers from both counties has immensely contributed in cementing the existing relationship between the two countries.
Sri Lanka and Nepal have always enjoyed a very close and warm relationship. With the opening of Resident Missions in Nepal and Sri Lanka in 1993 and 1995 respectively, the relationship between the two countries has been expanded to many areas of cooperation. The high level visits undertaken since 1957 by the leaders of the two countries have significantly contributed to the promotion of the links. Interaction between the two countries at bilateral and regional level under the umbrella of South Asia Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has further enhanced the relations. The SAARC priority is the promotion of regional welfare and prosperity through collective effort. The SAARC has brought Nepal and Sri Lanka closer together to work in concert with other member countries for a common objective which is the wellbeing of the people in the region.
As Nepal and Sri Lanka are both members of SAARC, BIMSTEC and Colombo Plan, the possibility of cooperation at regional level is growing. Both countries closely working in various international forums to voice their shared interest and concerns. The commitment of both to the UN charter and principles of nonalignment is irrevocable. Both countries have signed a number of Agreements and MOU’s during this 60 year period.
Although, Sri Lanka and Nepal had signed a Trade Agreement in 1979, the trade remains almost negligible. Hence, the role of the Private Sector is crucial in expanding and promoting trade and economic relations between the two countries.
The scope for Nepal–Sri Lanka joint ventures in the service sector such as hotel and tourism industries is no doubt promising. Promoting tourism between Sri Lanka and Nepal is intertwined with the linking two capitals. Sri Lanka known as a pearl of Indian Ocean and Nepal, the land of Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world, could benefit mutually from cooperation in the tourism sector by restoring the air link between Kathmandu and Colombo. What is important is to promote both the destinations jointly. In this connection the signing of the Air Service Agreement between Sri Lanka and Nepal can be treated as a landmark. There are severe constraints to expand Trade and Tourism due to lack of air connectivity between the two capitals.
A wonder of Asia, Sri Lanka crowned the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, is home to some of the most spectacular natural beauty known to man. As Island considered a paradise, surrounded by both the Indian Ocean and the mystique of an enduring and diverse history, make this place one of the fascination for both the eye and the soul.
Sri Lanka has tremendous potential for tourism given its geographical location and the many diverse attractions within a relatively small area.
Therefore, I take this opportunity to invite you all to spend your holidays in Sri Lanka.
People of Sri Lanka and Nepal have lot to share with each other in terms of the rich cultural heritage that we continue to enjoy. Both countries have signed an Agreement on Cultural Cooperation in 1999 during the state visit of then President Her Excellency Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.
One of the most important contributions made by Sri Lanka was to assist Nepal to reintroduce the Theravada Buddhist education. This had commenced since 1940s, as an initiative undertaken by the like-minded Buddhist scholars and philanthropists. Sri Lankan Buddhist monks have provided a great help in bringing the relics of Lord Buddha and a sapling of Sri Maha Bodhiya to Nepal.
Many young Nepali Buddhist monks are undergoing training on Theravada Buddhism at various Centers of learning in Sri Lanka since 1930s. At present, around 200 Nepali monks are being trained. Many have obtained their bachelor degrees and a few had continued up to MA, M. Phil and Ph. D degrees. Temples of Sri Lanka have become free shelters for the Nepali monks during their study.
Sri Lankan government is providing financial assistance to reconstruct Anandakuty Viharaya and Rato Machchindranath temple which were destroyed due to earthquake in 2015, by further strengthening the cultural relations.
Bidya Devi Bhandari, President of Nepal accompanied by a delegation visited Sri Lanka in May this year to attend the UN Vesak day celebrations. The President delivered a speech at the closing ceremony as the Chief Guest in front of the temple of the tooth relic in Kandy, one of the most sacred temples in Sri Lanka.
At present, more than 100 students are following medical courses in private Medical Colleges in Nepal. An agreement was signed between two countries in 2007 on exemption of visa fees for the students who visit each other’s country for the purpose of study.
Furthermore, there is ample scope for co-operation between Nepal and Sri Lanka both at bilateral and regional levels. These potentials have not been fully tapped. As both countries are adopting Liberal Economic Policies, stressed Public Private Partnerships and encourage foreign investment, the possibility of co-operation in these areas in the future will be beneficial to both countries.
The National Unity Government under the able leadership of Maithripala Sirisena, President and Ranil Wikremesinghe, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka have taken vital steps to change in Sri Lanka’s political culture against the politics of ethnic and religious division and against extremism on all sides. Restoration of Sri Lanka’s image on the international stage, the 19th amendment to the Constitution, the setting up of the Constitutional Assembly, working on a new constitution, measures to rid corruption, usher in a culture of good governance, setting up of independent commissions, introducing the Right to Information Act, ensuring media freedom, strong democracy, Reconcilation mechanisms, rapid economic development of the country are some of the important steps taken by the Sri Lankan Government towards achieving twine objectives i.e. reconciliation and development.
Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic and multi-faith country which has always striven to promote understanding, harmony and peace. Ending the conflict in 2009, which had dragged on for 30 years, the country today is emerging into an era of peace, with reconciliation being a corner stone of our development initiative.
The recently concluded elections in Nepal were historic with regard to implementation of the federal structure outlined in the 2015 new constitution. We congratulate Nepali People on the peaceful completion of the elections to the House of Representatives and Provincial Assemblies. The Nepal has entered a new phase of economic prosperity with a successful conduct of local, Federal and Provincial Assembly elections. These elections will definitely ensure political stability of the country.
The tremendous goodwill of Sri Lanka towards Nepal and its people, the same is reciprocated in Nepal too. Similarly century old relationship which buttressed through high level State visits from time to time by both countries remained close, cordial, friendly and warm ever since. I wish this friendship should further develop from strength to strength in the future.
Having passed 60 years, Sri Lanka – Nepal relation is free from tension and is based on mutual understanding and friendship. On the basis of 60 years of experiences, concrete efforts should be made to further consolidate Sri Lanka – Nepal friendship to a higher level.
(Excerpts of the address delivered by Sri-Lankan ambassador, WS Pereira at a talk programme organised to mark 60 years of diplomatic relations between Nepal and Sri Lanka.)

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