President Maithripala Sirisena concluded a two-day bilateral visit to Nepal, last Sunday and announced that Sri Lanka would support the Lumbini Master Plan, which aimed at conserving the historic site and improving its facilities for pilgrims. The President was in Nepal to attend the fourth BIMSTEC Summit held from August 30 to 31.
He made the announcement during bilateral talks with Nepali President Bidhya Devi Bhandari, which was followed by an official banquet in honour at Shital Nivas, last Saturday. Earlier that day, the President and the delegation visited Lumbini, which was the birthplace of Prince Siddhartha Gautama. Over 50,000 Sri Lankans visit Lumbini, annually. During the meeting, the two leaders reviewed bilateral exchanges that had taken place during the past few years. The Nepali President expressed her gratitude to Sri Lanka for assisting in handling the aftermath of the 2015 earthquake that devastated the country, particularly in reconstruction efforts at the Anand Kutir and the Rato Machindranath temples in Kathmandu. The leaders also discussed the possibility of marketting a ‘Buddhist Circuit’ as an initiative to boost tourism between the countries, and from outside the region.
President Sirisena congratulated the Government of Nepal on the successful conclusion of the BIMSTEC Summit and as the BIMSTEC’s new chair, sought the cooperation of Nepal in operationalising the Kathmandu Declaration. During the meeting with the Prime Minister of Nepal K.P. Sharma Oli, the President highlighted the importance of strengthening economic relations between the two countries, and the Nepali Prime Minister said that the Sri Lanka-Nepal Joint Commission would be held early, to carry forward the ideas discussed.
On August 31, President Sirisena also inaugurated a ‘Trade, Tourism and Investment Dialogue’ organised by the Institute for Strategic and Socio-Economic Research of Nepal. Addressing the gathering, State Foreign Affairs Minister Vasantha Senanayake requested that Sri Lankan companies in construction, education, IT, healthcare, apparel and hospitality be facilitated to invest in Nepal.
During the visit, two Memoranda of Understanding were exchanged between the two governments; the first, between the Institute of Foreign Affairs of Nepal and the Bandaranaike International Diplomatic Training Institute of Sri Lanka and the second, on Cooperation for Youth Development.
President Maithripala Sirisena also visited the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Secretariat headquartered in Kathmandu. He was received by SAARC Secretary General Amjad Hussain B. Sial, as well as SAARC Directors. To mark his first visit to the SAARC Secretariat, the President planted a tree sapling in its premises.
At the SAARC Secretariat, President Sirisena said that Sri Lanka supported the SAARC process as one of its founding members, and that his visit was intended to encourage the Secretary General and other staff for the tasks that laid before them.
He visited the Anand Kutir Vihara and the Rato Machindranath Temple and received a briefing on the progress of their reconstruction. The President and his delegation also visited the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu.