As Sri Lanka celebrates its 66th Independence Day today, its Ambassador Vadivel Krishnamoorthy reiterated his country’s commitment to strengthen the strong ties between the island and the Kingdom.
“Ever since we established diplomatic relations with the Kingdom in July 1974, the two countries have been maintaining excellent relations in social, cultural, political and economic fields,” Krishnamoorthy said.
He said the relationship with Saudi Arabia is significant not only because it is home to nearly 500,000 Sri Lankans but also it is a holy land for the Muslims who form seven percent of the country’s 24 million population.
A large number of Sri Lankan Muslims regularly come for the annual Haj and Umrah throughout the year.
“We are thankful to the leadership of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah for special care given to the Muslims from all parts of the world including Sri Lanka.”
The Sri Lankan Embassy in the Kingdom was established in Jeddah in late 1981. This was reciprocated by the Kingdom with a Saudi mission in Colombo 1994. The Saudi mission was elevated to an ambassadorial status with the appointment of Mohamed Mahmud Al-Ali as its first ambassador in 2001.
Recently, Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia have signed an agreement on “domestic worker recruitment” to streamline the process of recruitment and to protect the rights of both the employer and the domestic workers. It is designed to enhance cooperation on domestic worker recruitment in a manner that realizes the strategic interests of both countries.
“The signing of the general agreement on economic, trade, investment, scientific, technical, cultural, youth and sports cooperation between the two countries was a landmark event in the bilateral relations between the two countries,” the envoy said, adding that it paved the way for new areas of cooperation in various fields.
As a result, he said Saudi investors have begun to show more interests in the island since it safeguards the interests of investors from both countries.
Sri Lankan exports to the Kingdom are tea, garments, coir, fiber, fruits and vegetables, cut-flowers, leather goods and porcelain products.
Earlier, the two countries also signed a unified contract to incorporate the rights and privileges of employees as well as the employers.
“It has cut down several labor problems and has increased the number of Sri Lankans coming into the Kingdom,” the ambassador said pointing out that it has also eliminated the corruptions of the middlemen in the recruitment process.
The Saudi Fund for Development (SFD) has been instrumental in financing several projects in the island. The recent construction of a bridge which links the Eastern town of Trincomalee with Kinniya, a Muslim village will is beneficial to some 100,000 people living in Kinniya and they were using ferry as their mode of transport to come to Trincomalee, the north-eastern capital of the island. The Trincomalee-Batticaloa highway was also widened with the same funds allocated under the agreement.
In the early 1980s, the Kingdom gave financial assistance to Sri Lanka for various projects.
In 1981, SR99.9 million in credit was extended by the Kingdom for the second stage of the water supply and sewage project and another SR48.1 million for the Mahaweli Ganga Development project system B.
In 1984, the Kingdom provided SR85 million for the Mahaweli Ganga Development Project system B left bank.
To open new trading opportunities for businessmen in all parts of the globe, including Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka has also opened an online trading platform.
Sri Lanka’s Export Development Board (EDB) which is at the forefront of developing the island’s products and services has a website, srilankabusiness.com is the portal for leveraging the Internet for showcasing the country’s products and services in the world market.
The Board of Investment (BOI) headquartered in Colombo offers a wide range of incentives for foreign investors.
With the restoration of peace in the island, Sri Lanka has regained its position as a popular tourist destination. From the earliest times it has been a land of endless attractions for visitors from all parts of the world.
UNESCO has designated five sites in Sri Lanka as World Heritage sites.
“The tourists traffic from the Kingdom to Colombo has considerably increased and most of the Saudis are going either on business or leisure with their families,” said envoy.
“I am happy to note that the increased number of direct flights connecting Colombo and Riyadh, Dammam and Jeddah is also promoting trade, tourism, and people-to-people contact,” he said.
“Last year, more than 23,753 Saudi nationals visited Sri Lanka. Since tourism is the primary area facilitating people-to-people contact, this embassy has streamlined its procedure of issuing visas through the ETA system,” he said.
Two community schools in Riyadh and Jeddah cater to the educational needs of Sri Lankans.
The diplomat said his country is an ideal tourist destination for a family holiday island as a tourist destination.
He said the Saudi tourists are heavy spenders and they look for South Asian destinations for their holidays.
“We have plenty of attractions to offer for Saudi tourists and we are making every effort to attract tourists from this part of the world ,” he added.
He said Saudi families who had visited Sri Lanka had always opted to repeat the visit because of the island’s natural scenic beauty and the hospitality of its people.
“Muslim visitors will feel home in the city of Colombo since they could see mosques in the vicinity of every shopping center,” he said. In fact, he said, women in Hijab are a common sight in the city.
“A good number of Saudis are currently visiting Sri Lanka for their leisure and honeymoon.”
The island has some 15,000 quality rooms and it is studded with quality hotels such as Cinnamon Grand, Cinnamon Lake, Taj Exotica, Light House, and Heritance Hotels, Kingsbury and Galadari for the comfort of luxury tourists.
Sri Lanka is home to eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, several temples, and other ancient monuments that serve as attractions for travelers.
The eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka include the central highlands area comprising of the Hortons Plains National Park and Knuckles Conservation Forest, the Sinharaja Forest Reserve, the Dutch Fort in Galle, the Golden Temple of Dambulla, the Temple of Tooth in Kandy, and the ancient cities of Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura, and Sigiriya.
The high mobility link between the Bandaranaike International Airport, Katunayake, and the capital Colombo was realized on recently with the opening of the Colombo-Katunayake Expressway (CKE) by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The link between the International Airport and Colombo with enhanced safety is designed to boost the country’s economy in addition to providing pleasant travel for road users enabling them to reach the airport in 12 minutes from Colombo.