International Affairs


Excellency Mrs. Chandrika Bandarnaike Kumaratunga,

Distinguished guests from Sri Lanka,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me special pleasure to extend a warm and cordial welcome to Your Excellency, your son Vimukti and the distinguished members of your delegation.

The visit of the President of Sri Lanka to India is always a pleasant and significant event. It brings to us something of the fragrance of friendship between our two peoples nurtured over the ages by geography, history, culture and immortal teachings of the Buddha. It is a relationship marked by an unbroken continuity and by sentiments of civilizational kinship and enriched by modern linkages of economics and commerce and science and technology. You have, Excellency, brought to bear upon this traditional India - Sri Lankan relations a deep and sensitive understanding. We welcome you to India not only as the President of a neighbouring country, but as a leader of vision and compassion held in high esteem by your people and by people in our region.

Excellency, our shared dedication to democracy, humanism and tolerance enables us to view each other's aspirations and concerns with sympathy and understanding. We in India are very conscious of the challenges that the people of Sri Lanka continue to face as they strive to live together in peace and harmony in a pluralistic society. We applaud your statesmanship in coming forward with new initiatives to address the aspirations of all sections of Sri Lankan society. We are confident that with the courage of your conviction and wise leadership, Sri Lanka will achieve peace and tranquility, within the framework of its national unity and territorial integrity.

Excellency, your visit has provided an opportunity for a purposeful review of bilateral cooperation and for updating strategies and initiatives for the future. Of fundamental importance among these is the proposal for a bilateral free trade area which is now being actively pursued. This is an imaginative concept with great promise for growth and diversification of trade, investment and other economic exchanges. I am happy that an Agreement on this has been signed today by Your Excellency and our Prime Minister which we believe, could initiate a pattern for the South Asian region.

Excellency, I am happy to learn about the decision to set up the India-Sri Lanka Foundation. This will play an important role in promoting closer people-to-people contact. This and other initiatives, such as the establishment of the Indian Cultural Centre in Colombo last July and the proposed setting up of a Sri Lankan Cultural Centre in India, could give further impetus to our exchanges in art, culture, and science and technology. The Sri Lankan Pilgrims' Rest House for which the site was gifted by our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and you have laid the foundation stone this morning, together with our Prime Minister, is to provide facilities for pilgrims of all faiths in the common tradition of religious tolerance that we cherish.

Excellency, SAARC represents a vitally important dimension of our relations. As Chairperson, you guided the deliberations of the Tenth SAARC Summit in Colombo with clear purpose and direction. You have our continued and full support in your endeavours for the common cause. We believe that each country of the region, and the region as a whole, will be able to develop fully their potential and rise to their full stature in the world through such co-operation.

India and Sri Lanka have established a tradition of collaboration beyond SAARC. We have recently joined hands with other countries around the Bay of Bengal in BIMSTEC for devising programmes of co-operation among a number of countries located in our extended neighbourhood. Our efforts at multi-lateral economic and developmental cooperation began decades ago in UNCTAD and G-77 and our two countries have worked closely together in the Nonaligned Movement and at the United Nations. These interactions in the international field which encompass a wide range of crucial and complex issues, relating in particular, to the reform and expansion of the United Nations Security Council, the questions of world economic development, as well as disarmament and international terrorism reinforce our capabilities in dealing with the challenges of the present day world.

Excellency, there is a great deal to cherish when two friends of long standing get together to exchange ideas and to explore ways of working with each other in new and promising areas. This is indeed, one of those occasions, which leaves one with a special sense of satisfaction from the meeting of minds. I am convinced that we can look forward to a new era of active and dynamic cooperation on the basis of the friendship and mutual trust that exists between our two countries. Your visit to India, Excellency, is a significant step in that direction into the new century and the new millennium that we are about to enter.

Ladies and Gentlemen, may I invite you to rise and join me in a toast :

- to the health and well-being of Her Excellency, Mrs. Chandrika Bandarnaike Kumaratunga, President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka;
- to the prosperity and happiness of the friendly people of Sri Lanka; and
- to the bonds of abiding friendship between the peoples of our two countries.

Thank you

Jai Hind