President prepares for visit to Pakistan
Shimali Senanayake in Colombo,
March 5th, 2006, SLT 6 a.m..
President Mahinda Rajapakse will set off on an official visit to
Pakistan at the end of this month, officials said.
"Pakistan has always had close relations with Sri Lanka and this
good-will visit will strengthen our ties," said Zahoor Barlas,
spokesman for the Pakisatan high commission in Colombo.
The visit _ starting March 31 _ will be the first to Pakistan since
Rajapakse was elected to office, and his second official tour
Sri Lanka is expected to sign several agreements with Pakistan during
the visit, including pacts connected to tourism, culture and railways,
He declined to comment if defense-related issues were going to be
discussed, but assured Pakistan's unreserved support.
"Whatever assistance in whatever field Sri Lanka wants from Pakistan,
we as a friend will provide," Barlas said.
However, presidential officials said military matters will be taken up
during meetings between Rajapakse and his Pakistan counterpart Pervez
Musharaff. Musharraf supplied much-needed weapons to the Sri Lankan
government in May 2000, when the LTTE were about to recapture their
former capital of Jaffna. The new weapons, mainly multi-barrel rocket
launchers, from Pakistan helped the Sri Lankan army beat back the
Tigers and turn the tide against the LTTE.
During Mushraff's 2002 visit to Sri Lanka, the two countries also
signed a five-year free trade agreement that became operational in
June 2005. Since then, in the second half of last year trade between
Sri Lanka and Pakistan has almost doubled.
The two countries earlier maintained a US$130 million annual trade of
tea, garments, electronics, fruits, engineering goods and agricultural
President Rajapakse has particularly close relations with Pakistan's
High Commissioner to Colombo Bashir Wali Mohmand, who officials say is
personally engaged in ensuring the success of Rajapakse's visit with
attention to detail.
Rajapakse is expected to be housed in a hotel that the Saudi Arabia
king stayed during his visit, a higher profile venue than where other
Sri Lankan state leaders, including former President Chandrika
Kumaratunga stayed during her official visit in Pakistan.
Barlas said Sri Lanka is still to finalize the composition of the
president's team and bilateral meetings will be set up accordingly.
Rajapakse is scheduled to will visit a province _ either Punjab or
Lahore _ and also one of Pakistan's largest mosque's before concluding
Sri Lanka traditionally enjoys close ties with India, its giant
neighbor and Pakistan's archrival, but Colombo has also successfully
established good relations with the Musharraf regime in Islamabad.
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Published: Sat Mar 4 20:40:33 EST 2006