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Chinese ‘debt trap’: President sets record straight

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‘Independence and sovereignty won’t be compromised in foreign relations’

Pointing out that China had assisted in the development of Sri Lanka’s infrastructure since the end of the separatist war in May 2009, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday (28) insisted that Sri Lanka had not been caught in a debt trap as a result.

President Rajapaksa made his position clear as regards repeated US allegations that Sri Lanka is in a Chinese debt trap when he met US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo at the Presidential Secretariat.

Pompeo arrived at the BIA from New Delhi on Tuesday night (27). The visit took place in the wake of the high level Chinese delegation meeting President Gotabaya Rajapaksa where Beijing reiterated its commitment to Sri Lanka’s prosperity.

The President’s Office quoted the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as having assured President Gotabaya Rajapaksa that the United States was ready to continuously engage Sri Lanka in its strive to achieve economic development goals.

His country expects to further develop already existing strong bilateral relations between the two countries, the PO statement quoted Pompeo as having said.

The PO statement: During the cordial discussion between the two parties, views on a number of areas of bilateral and regional importance were exchanged.

Expressing the desire of the United States to continue to work closely with Sri Lanka in achieving a high level of economic development the American Secretary of State said priority will be given to promote US investments in the Island.

Tourism is a key sector that contributes to employment and income generation. USA is ready to give a helping hand to the development of this area under a carefully prepared action plan, Mr. Pompeo stated.

In response President Rajapaksa said what Sri Lanka wants is not obtaining loans continuously but to achieve a high level of economic growth by attracting more foreign investments.

“We have already begun to remove bureaucratic red tape that hinder foreign investment. Sri Lanka is a country that possesses necessary factors to achieve a high agricultural development. Our agriculture sector should be modernized. Scientific research should be conducted in order to reach this goal. We expect your assistance towards this end”, President Rajapaksa stressed.

Elaborating on the foreign policy of Sri Lanka, President said it is based on neutrality.

Relations between Sri Lanka and other nations are determined by several conditions. Historic and cultural relations, development cooperation are some of the priorities. President stressed that he is not ready to compromise the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the nation in maintaining foreign relations whatever the circumstances may be. Noting that China assisted in the development of the country’s infrastructure since the end of the separatist war, the President reiterated that Sri Lanka is not caught in a debt trap as a result.

The two sides agreed to further strengthen the defence cooperation already established between Sri Lanka and the United States. These include training opportunities and material assistance from the United States to security forces personnel in Sri Lanka.

When President emphasized the need to strengthen the coast guard services to combat drug trafficking, the State Secretary said that the US could assist in this endeavor.

Mr. Pompeo said that the United States wishes to see that the Indian Ocean remains a zone of peace. He expressed satisfaction over the existing friendly ties between Sri Lanka and India. President Rajapaksa stated that Sri Lanka also hopes to see peace in the Indian Ocean.

Both parties also agreed to work together on human rights issues in international fora.

The US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Alaina Teplitz, Under Secretary of State Brian Bulatao, Chief Assistant Deputy Secretary at Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Dean Thompson, Senior Advisor to the State Secretary Mary Kissel were the other members of the US delegation.

Minister of Foreign Relations Dinesh Gunawardena, Secretary to the President P.B. Jayasundera, Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Relations Admiral Jayanath Colombage, Principal Advisor to the President Lalith Weeratunga and Sri Lanka’s Ambassador – designate to the US Ravinatha Aryasinghe were also present during the discussion.

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Covid-19 vaccination programme: MPs not in priority group; President, armed forces chiefs in ‘third category’ 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday (25) said that members of Parliament were not among those categorised as priority groups expected to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Fernandopulle said so in response to The Island query whether parliamentarians would receive the vaccine scheduled to be delivered by India this week. Asked to explain, Dr. Fernandopulle said that health workers, armed forces and law enforcement personnel engaged in Covid-19 prevention operations would be given priority.

“Lawmakers haven’t been listed under priority groups. However, some members may get the vaccine if they are accommodated in the over 60 years category and those suffering from diabetes, heart disease, cancer et al,” the State minister said.

In addition to State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, several lawmakers, representing both the government and the Opposition had been afflicted over the past several weeks. SLPP lawmaker Wasantha Yapa Bandara (Kandy district) is the latest victim. Health minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi was among over half a dozen lawmakers tested positive.

Army Commander General Shavendra Silva told Derana yesterday morning Sri Lanka would receive approximately 500,000 to 600,000 doses from India. Responding to a spate of questions from Derana anchor Sanka Amarjith, Gen. Silva explained the measures taken by the government to ensure a smooth vaccination programme. The Army Chief who also functions as the Chief of Defence Staff revealed India had paid for the consignment obtained from the UK.

Later in the day, The Island sought an explanation from the Army Chief regarding the President, Service Commanders, Secretary Defence given the vaccination along with frontline health workers et al, the celebrated battlefield commander said: “Will be in third priority group.”

Asked whether the student population would be accommodated at an early stage of the vaccination programme, Dr. Fernandopulle said that those under 18 years of age, pregnant and lactating mothers wouldn’t be included at all as such groups hadn’t been subjected to trials. Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera wasn’t available for comment.

Dr. Fernandopulle emphasized the pivotal importance of following health guidelines strictly in spite of the launch of the vaccination programme. “We shouldn’t lower our guard under any circumstances,” Dr. Fernandopulle said, urging the population to be mindful of those unable to receive the vaccination due to no fault of theirs. As those under 18 years of age had been left out of the vaccination programme, a substantial section of the population would be denied the protection, the State Minister said.

Sri Lanka is also expected to procure vaccines from China and Russia in addition to the doses from India. Health Secretary Maj. Gen. Sanjeewa Munasinghe wasn’t available for comment.

Sri Lanka launches the vaccination programme with the total number of positive cases nearing 60,000 with nearly 50,000 recoveries. The government recently re-opened the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) following a pilot programme that brought over 1,200 Ukrainians in dozen flights through the Mattala International Airport.

Dr. Fernandopulle said that the government was ready to launch the vaccination programme as soon as the first consignment arrived from India.

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Tennis balls filled with drugs thrown into Kandakadu Covid-19 treatment centre

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By Norman Palihawadane

Two tennis balls filled with drugs had been thrown into the Covid-19 treatment centre at Kandakadu, Police Spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana said.

The contraband was found on Saturday by the Army officers attached to the facility.

DIG Rohana said the two tennis balls containing cannabis, heroin and tobacco, had been handed over to the Welikanda Police.

A special investigation has been launched into the incident, the Police Spokesperson said. Such incidents had been previously reported from Welikada, Negombo and other prisons, but it was the first time contraband containing narcotics had been thrown into a Covid-19 treatment centre, he added.

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All cargo clearances at Colombo port now through electronic payments

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The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) has introduced a system where payment for imports could be made via the Internet. This allows port users to make payments from their homes or offices to clear goods from the Port of Colombo.

The SLPA has said in a media statement that the new special facility will enable port users to make their port payments easily without hassle.

At present, all terminals of the Port of Colombo are run according to a strategic crisis management plan.

 

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