Bangladesh-Sri Lanka Relations
State Dinner Hosted by President Professor Iajuddin Ahmed
Bangabhaban, Dhaka, Bangladesh
April 19, 2003
Your Excellency Prof. Dr.Iajuddin Ahmed,
President of Bangladesh,
Your Excellency Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia
Excellencies, Ladies & Gentlemen,
Permit me to express my sincere gratitude for your warm words of welcome and the kind sentiments expressed by Your Excellency on Sri Lanka, its people and myself. Let me also convey my appreciation as well as that of my delegation for the excellent arrangements made for our visit to your lovely country and for the particularly warm hospitality extended to us.
With your unanimous election to the high office of President in September last year by the Bangladesh Parliament, you brought with you a wealth of experience and expertise, culled from serving in several eminent positions in the Public Service and Government. This, along with your firm commitment to democratic ideals, has enabled you to discharge the duties of your high office impressively.
Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are Indian Ocean States with an ancient history and civilization, with close cultural linkages and commonalities. Our peoples have a long history of close and friendly relations.
Early travelers and writers such as Fa-hien of China and Ibn Batuta from Arabia have commented on our ancient societies and our peoples. While Ibn Batuta in the 14th century referred to your land as a place “full of bounties and wealthiest and cheapest land of the world”, Fashion characterized Sri Lanka in 3rd century A.D. as a “pleasant land where travelers flocked in numbers, till it became a great nation”.
In modern times, our two Nations share a common vision in many spheres. We believe in the preservation of democracy and the rule of law and the need for rapid and sustainable economic development with a view to alleviating poverty, and share common concerns regarding the vulnerability of developing countries faced with the challenges of globalisation, and the conservation and protection of our environment and natural resources. The challenges posed by these issues are formidable. I am sure you would agree with me of the urgent and heightened need for increased cooperation between our two countries, as well as with those of our region primarily, and then at a global level.
In recent times, we have seen an expansion of our traditionally warm relations, particularly in the area of economic cooperation which is now on a firm foundation, led by private sector growth. Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi entrepreneurs have invested in each other’s economies in both manufacturing and services sectors. Several visits at Ministerial level during the past decade, have sought to enhance trade and commercial relations between our countries. Our Chambers of Commerce are working together with the objective of developing mutual opportunities for trade, commerce and investment.
Let me also say how deeply appreciative we are of the encouragement and support expressed by the government and people of Bangladesh in our efforts for a negotiated settlement of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.
Bangladesh has consistently supported Sri Lanka, in the course of the last two decades on matters relating to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. We know that this derives from the keen desire of Bangladesh to assist us in the re-establishment of peace and prosperity in Sri Lanka. The present Government has continued the process, initiated by me, with a view to finding a negotiated settlement to Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict. I shall of course continue my personal commitment to the success of the peace process and attempt to guide the government in its present undertaking. We also wish to learn and draw inspiration from the experience of Bangladesh in the peaceful resolution of the insurgency problem in the Chittagong Hill Tracks region.
Our armed forces have borne a heavy and difficult responsibility with great fortitude and determination during the long years of armed conflict.
Sri Lanka is grateful for the valuable assistance and training provided by Bangladesh for our armed forces. Bangladesh, which has been one of the largest contributors of personnel to UN Peace Keeping Operations for many years, possesses valuable expertise in this field. We will count on your continued cooperation and assistance in this field.
Excellencies, Ladies & Gentlemen,
Sri Lanka and Bangladesh work closely together to advance regional cooperation in SAARC. The name of Bangladesh will always resound through our region, in memory of the great foresight of President Zia – ur - Rahman who initiated the process of SAARC. The alleviation of poverty remains the over-arching goal of SAARC and Her Excellency the Prime Minister’s unique contribution of the Dall-Bhaat programme for poverty alleviation has served as a valuable example not only for our own region but also for the developing world. Under the able leadership of Her Excellency the Prime Minister, Bangladesh has made significant strides in the fields of empowerment of women, education - especially for girls and in rural economic development.
Both our countries have a shared vision of the positive contribution SAARC can make to advance regional cooperation, peace, security and development for the betterment of our peoples. We have to collectively formulate methods and procedures to strengthen the SAARC process and take it forward within the context of intra-regional conflict. In this context Sri Lanka would wish to see the 12th SAARC Summit convened at an early date.
Our two countries have also adhered strongly to a World Order where all Nations big or small, powerful or not so powerful are recognised as sovereign and equal partners in the arena of international politics. In order to achieve this objective we believed in and contributed hugely, to the International Organisations such as United Nations Organisation, the Non-Aligned Movement and Regional Organisations such as the Commonwealth, SAARC, BIMST-EC and IOR-ARC. We had some faith that the international systems would provide a sufficient forum for Nations to discuss and resolve conflicts, without permitting the horrors of war, as happened in the first half of the 20th Century during the two World Wars and the numerous wars and military conflicts that were waged in the previous centuries.
The recent events that have taken the world by surprise, have surely shaken our belief and faith in the ability of the international systems to prevent violence by one nation against another. We still believe that the effective use of those faculties with which Man alone of all living beings is blessed with, namely our minds, hearts and our spirituality to negotiate solutions, however difficult, to end disagreements that may arise between organised and sovereign states should be explored to the maximum.
We have to now, once again, take courage and rise up again, to rebuild and strengthen the international systems and structure them to be more effective in order to ensure World Peace, justice and fair play for all Nations rich or poor, big or small. This is a pre-requisite to all economic advancement.
Together we will strive to overcome the challenges and take forward the friendship between our two peoples into the new millennium.
Your Excellency, I wish to extend my warm good wishes for your continued good health and success and Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia and the government and the people of Bangladesh for continued Peace, progress and prosperity.
May our friendship grow from strength to strength.
President in Bangladesh, April 2003
President Chandrika Kumaratunga on a two day official visit in Bangladesh 19-20 April, 2003