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Pakistani Prime Minister’s visit to Sri Lanka will open new chapter in bilateral relations

COLOMBO: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Sri Lanka will open a new chapter in bilateral relations, officials told Arab News on Monday.

Khan is due to arrive at Bandaranaike International Airport at 4 p.m. Tuesday and will receive a special honor guard ceremony.

He will meet with key leaders including Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, and attend an investor forum on Wednesday.

“Prime Minister Imran Khan is making his first visit as Prime Minister to our country,” said Rohan Welliwita, Rajapaksa media secretary. “This is a historic visit that will open a new chapter in Lanka-Pak relations.”

Seven deals are going to be signed during Khan’s two-day trip, but Welliwita has not given details about them.

A Foreign Ministry official, requesting anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to the media, said the agreements would promote “tourism, technology, parliamentary relations, culture, sports, commerce and investments”.

The Pakistan-Sri Lanka Trade and Investment Forum, hosted by Pakistan’s Ministry of Commerce and its diplomatic mission in Colombo, will be held at the Shangri-La Hotel, where Khan is expected to convince business tycoons of the island to invest in Pakistan.

Khan’s original itinerary, which included an address to Sri Lanka’s parliament on Wednesday, was abruptly canceled last week due to his “tight schedule” as the visit was untimely due to a spike in coronavirus cases in across the country.

“The speech was canceled due to the demanding schedule of the visiting prime minister,” Shan Wijetunge, parliamentary communications chief, told Arab News.

Khan will be accompanied by Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Trade Advisor to Prime Minister Abdul Razak Dawood, Foreign Secretary Sohail Mehmood and a delegation of senior officials and business leaders.

Rajapaksa tweeted: “I am looking forward to welcoming Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and his delegation to Sri Lanka. This visit will further strengthen our bilateral relationship and pave the way for joint ventures that will mutually benefit our two nations.

Khan replied, “Thank you for your invitation to Prime Minister Rajapaksa. Looking forward to my visit to further strengthen the friendship and cooperation between our two countries. “

Pakistani media, quoting the Commerce Ministry, said Sri Lanka had agreed to reactivate a joint task force to resolve outstanding technical issues between the two trading partners.

Sri Lankan Muslim leaders have said they hope Khan will address the issue of forced cremations during his talks with key leaders.

The mandatory cremation policy for COVID-19 victims was enforced last April, angering Muslim and Christian communities, who said it violated their rights.

Earlier this month, on February 9, in response to a question from a lawmaker, Rajapaksa said the government would soon start authorizing burials for those who had died from COVID-19.

The next day, however, the health ministry said the declaration was not effective because it had yet to be ratified by official notification.

Sri Lanka continues to face pressure on this policy, with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation having made three requests that the country reconsider its decision on cremations.

The problem escalated after a video of a 13-year-old boy asking Khan to help the Muslim community perform final rites for COVID-19 victims went viral on Monday.

“I hope he will raise the issue of cremation on behalf of Lankan Muslims with senior officials in Sri Lanka,” Sri Lankan Muslim Council Chairman NM Ameen told Arab News.

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