RIYADH: Sri Lanka looks forward to further strengthening ties with the Kingdom, especially in the fields of employment, trade, investment and tourism, the island’s Ambassador Azmi Thassim told Arab News on the eve of his country’s Independence and National Day on Saturday.
“Appreciating the long-standing relationship with Saudi Arabia, our country wholeheartedly supports Vision 2030 under the wise leadership of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman and the NTP (National Transformation Program) 2020 initiated by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, second deputy premier and defense minister,” Thassim said.
The envoy, who met with Riyadh Gov. Prince Faisal bin Bandar recently, expressed hope for the enhancement of bilateral ties.
“Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, trade and tourism have tremendously increased for the benefit of the people of the two friendly countries,” Thassim said, adding that nearly 38,000 Saudis visited Sri Lanka last year.
The diplomat said his country is an ideal tourist destination for a family holiday: “We have plenty of attractions to offer Saudi tourists, and we are making every effort to attract tourists from this part of the world.”
He added that Saudi families who had visited Sri Lanka had always opted to repeat their visits because of the island’s natural scenic beauty and the hospitality of its people.
“Muslim visitors will feel at home in the city of Colombo since they can see mosques in the vicinity of every shopping center,” he said, adding that women in hijab are a common sight in the capital. “A good number of Saudis are currently visiting Sri Lanka for their leisure and honeymoon.”
Thassim said: “Our target is to promote trade and investment with the Kingdom.” Sri Lankan exports to Saudi Arabia include tea, garments, fruit and vegetables, cut flowers, leather goods and porcelain products.
“Ever since we established diplomatic relations with the Kingdom in July 1974, the two countries have maintained excellent relations in social, cultural, political and economic fields,” the ambassador said.
He added that the relationship with Saudi Arabia is significant not only because it is home to nearly 200,000 Sri Lankans, but also because it is a holy land for the Muslims who form 10 percent of the island’s population of 24 million.
A large number of Sri Lankan Muslims regularly travel to the Kingdom for the annual Haj and Umrah pilgrimage.
Thassim thanked the Saudi leadership for the “special care given to Muslims from all parts of the world, including Sri Lanka.”
He also thanked Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif, deputy premier and interior minister, and Prince Mohammed for their kind cooperation in maintaining relations with friendly countries such as Sri Lanka.