Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama accompanied by Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa participated in the high level segment of the Ministerial session of the 15th ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) today, (24th July 2008) in Singapore, at which he was joined by ministerial colleagues from the US, Russia, China, Japan, Australia and South Korea, among the other 27 member states.
The discussions touched on issues including counter terrorism and transnational crime, disaster relief, non-proliferation and disarmament, maritime security, cyber security and cyber terrorism. Intervening in the deliberations, Minister Bogollagama highlighted the importance of the international community to close ranks, moving beyond the rhetoric of merely paying lip service in combating terrorism, by taking meaningful and tangible action against terrorist organizations and their fronts operating under various innocuous guises. In this context, he elaborated on the need to address the specific challenges posed by terrorism, including the raising of funds, and transnational crimes such as money laundering, human smuggling, illicit arms procurement and narcotics trafficking. The Minister reiterated the call made by Sri Lanka at the 14th ARF in Manila last year on the importance of securing the seas of the region, as a means of enhancing maritime security. In this context, he commended the ASEAN Secretariat for the studies and research that it had undertaken on this important subject. Referring to the recent terrorist attacks on the Indian Embassy in Kabul and the US Consulate General in Istanbul, the Foreign Minister expressed his serious concern over these wanton acts of terrorism, since diplomatic missions represent governments of sovereign states. While condemning the attacks, he urged ARF member states to demonstrate their resolve and commitment in countering terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. The Minister proposed the early convening of a Working Group on intelligence sharing by the ARF, as a matter of high priority.
Minister Bogollagama also took the opportunity of addressing his counterparts on the agenda of the 15th SAARC Summit to be held in Colombo shortly and drew parallels between ASEAN and SAARC in dealing with issues of common concern such as terrorism and transnational crime, food security and high energy prices.
On the fringes of the ARF Ministerial sessions, Minister Bogollagama today met with Heads of Delegations from China, India, Vietnam and Indonesia. At his meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, the two sides recalled their meeting at the Boao Forum in April this year. While reviewing bilateral ties, both Ministers expressed their satisfaction at the excellent state of relations between the two countries. The Chinese Minister assured his Sri Lankan counterpart of continued Chinese support and assistance to Sri Lanka for her socio-economic development. He also expressed his keen interest in visiting Sri Lanka at the earliest opportunity.
During his call on Minister Bogollagama, the Indian Minister of State for External Affairs, Anand Sharma conveyed his appreciation to the Foreign Minister for his intervention at today’s Ministerial session of the ARF in condemning the recent bomb attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul. He expressed his good wishes for the SAARC Summit. He also complimented Sri Lanka on the successful holding of elections in the Eastern Province, which enabled the restoration of democracy after almost 20 years.
Foreign Minister Bogollagama also met with the Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Gia Khiem, at which he briefed the latter on Sri Lanka’s success story in defeating terrorism in the Eastern Province and the empowerment of the people through the holding of local and provincial elections. The Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister in response conveyed his wishes for peace and stability in Sri Lanka and called for a higher level of bilateral economic co-operation, including greater collaboration between the private sectors of the two countries.
Minister Bogollagama invited Vietnam’s participation in the proposed International Buddhist Zone to be established in Sri Lanka. Responding to the Sri Lankan Minister’s request, the Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister said that Vietnam would favourably consider the proposal to set up its Embassy in Colombo. Defence Secretary Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who was associated with the Minister at the meeting, requested for the early conclusion of an MOU on defence co-operation and intelligence sharing.
The final engagement of Minister Bogollagama was his meeting with the Indonesian Foreign Minister Dr. Hassan Wirajuda, at which he briefed the latter on current political developments in Sri Lanka as well as the arrangements that are underway for the holding of the 15th SAARC Summit in Colombo. Both Ministers exchanged views on the experiences of the two countries in combating terrorism. Dr. Wirajuda welcomed Sri Lanka’s participation in the ARF and complimented Minister Bogollagama for his insightful interventions at the Ministerial session. He said that he was keenly looking forward to visiting Sri Lanka shortly for the first Sri Lanka-Indonesia Joint Commission. Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa briefed the Indonesian Minister on the security situation in Sri Lanka and also discussed defence and security issues of mutual interest.
The participation of Sri Lanka at the 15th ARF was warmly welcomed by many countries, which enabled it to articulate its concerns on matters of defence and security co-operation at this important forum and has also served to enhance the prestige of the country internationally.
Sri Lanka High Commission
24th July 2008
(Courtesy : Ministry of Foreign Affairs )