No threat to Maldivians in Srilanka, assures Sri Lankan foreign minister

Sri Lankan minister for External Affairs G.L. Peiris has assured that there is no threat to Maldivians residing in his country from ongoing conflicts between Muslims and Buddhists.

Speaking during the official state visit of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Peiris said that the “happy and contented” Maldivian community living in Sri Lanka mostly reside in the southern parts of the country, far away from the zone of conflict.

“There is absolutely no problem in that area,” he said, adding that the conflict was going on in a very narrow area of Sri Lanka.

Rajapaksa’s two-day state visit is the first official visit of a foreign leader since President Yameen’s election, and has seen agreements signed related to health, investment, and search and rescue services.

Maldivian Foreign Minister Dhunya Maumoon – speaking at today’s press conference in Kurumba resort – said that the Maldivian government appreciated the steps taken by the Sri Lankan government to ensure the safety of the the 9,400 citizens in the Maldives.

“Not that there are no serious issues,” she said. “But the media sometimes sensationalise these issues.”

On June 16, 2014, reports emerged that hard-line Buddhists hurled gasoline bombs and looted homes and businesses during attacks in several Muslim towns in southwestern Sri Lanka, killing three Muslims and seriously wounding more than 50 people.

Dunya said that the Maldivian embassy in Sri Lanka was closely monitoring the situation on a daily basis. She also revealed that land in the Maldivian capital had been granted for Sri Lanka to set up a new diplomatic premises.

Following Rajapaksa’s arrival yesterday, official bilateral talks were held between the two governments as well as a private meeting between the two heads of state. A special banquet in honour of the Sri Lankan president and first lady was held at Kurumba yesterday evening.

Dunya today noted the close personal links between the two nations with Sri Lankan expatriate workers greatly assisting the Maldivian economy while more than 80,000 Maldivians visited Sri Lanka in 2012.

“We recognise and applaud the tremendous post-conflict reconstruction efforts of the Sri Lankan Government. We believe that the Sri Lankan Government and its people can address and overcome the challenges of post-conflict reconstruction and rehabilitation,” said the foreign minister.

Details of the health MoU were also revealed yesterday, with three specialists per year travelling to the Maldives as well as places for five Maldivian students to study medicine in Sri Lanka.

“Maldivians have been long standing consumers of the excellent education and health services in Sri Lanka. Under the agreement signed yesterday, the Maldives looks forward to further enhancing cooperation in the health sector, including in investing in human resources, recruitment of medical doctors and health professionals, and procurement of pharmaceuticals,” she added.

External Affairs Minister Peiris told press today that the agreements reached would have positive practical results for both nations, in particular new agreements on investment.

Trade between the two states grew by 40 percent last year, said Peiris, currently amounting to US$76 million – a figure he described as “satisfactory” with room for improvement.

“Major Sri Lankan investors are investing in the Maldives in a big way, particularly in tourism infrastructure,” he continued.

As part of today’s trip, a networking session was held in MalĂ© for Sri Lanka’s business delegation, with Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb and Economic Development Minister Mohamed Saeed revealing details of investment opportunities in the Maldives.

Asked about discussions on Sri Lankan fishermen’s access to the travel through the Maldives’ territorial waters, Peiris said that such close allies had no need to hold official discussions “formally” about the right of innocent passage.

President Yameen had promised to explore during his corresponding trip to Sri Lanka in January, during which MoUs were signed regarding combating transnational crime , vocational training, and sports cooperation.

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