Sri Lankan Official says there is Room to Improve Relations with Palestine

WAFA FEBR 22 2012

By Tala Rimawi

RAMALLAH, February 22, 2012 (WAFA) – The Government of Sri Lanka was hoping that a memorandum of understanding (MOU) President Mahmoud Abbas had signed in Colombo in 2008 would have increased trade and facilitated bilateral relations, T. Jayasinghe, Sri Lanka’s Representative to the Palestinian Authority, said Wednesday.

He complained to WAFA that Palestinian ministers have failed to take advantage of this agreement that would have opened the door for stronger trade relations between Sri Lanka and Palestine.

However, he added, he hopes that with the visit last week to Ramallah of Namal Rajapaksa, as an envoy of the Sri Lankan president, and his meeting with Abbas would help remove obstacles that may have come in the way of trade expansion.

He said Sri Lankan tea is currently the primary import to the Palestinian Territory along with powder coconut milk. He said Sri Lanka wanted to import Palestinian olive oil to help local farmers but this was not possible for the time being.

He praised the growing number of Palestinians visiting Sri Lanka, explaining that the 750,000th visitor to Sri Lanka last year was a Palestinian family. He said the family received several gifts from the government.

At the same time about 10,000 Christian Sri Lankans pilgrims visit Bethlehem every year, adding that he himself had pushed the Israeli tour agencies that organize the visits to let the tourists stay in Bethlehem for several nights instead of just visiting the Nativity Church and leave immediately after.

He called on the Palestinian minister of tourism to help facilitate tourism between Sri Lanka and Palestine.

In terms of supporting education, he said Sri Lanka gives out three full scholarships a year to Palestinian students studying in Sri Lankan universities.

Jayasinghe said that Sri Lanka has always been a great supporter of the Palestinian cause and people and had lobbied for the Palestinian bid for membership in UNESCO.

He said in 2010 President Mahinda Rajapaksa was the only head of state to focus his speech at the United Nations on the Palestinian cause and that he made a very good contribution last year at the UN in support of the Palestinian UN recognition bid.

Sri Lanka cut relations with Israel in 1975 in protest against its treatment of the Palestinian people, and immediately recognized the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

However, it resumed ties with Israel in 2005, but kept up the good relations with the PLO and Palestinian Authority.


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