COLOMBO: Saudi Arabia’s envoy to Sri Lanka on Tuesday vowed to take relations with Colombo to “new heights” after meeting with the South Asian country’s new President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Speaking to Arab News a day after congratulating Rajapaksa on his recent election to power with a thumping 1.3-million-vote majority, the Kingdom’s ambassador Abdul Nasser Al-Harthy said there would be concentrated efforts to boost bilateral ties between the two countries.
In a Twitter post following the meeting, Rajapaksa said he had been “pleased” to meet with Al-Harthy during his courtesy visit on Monday.
The envoy said that during their brief but “successful” talks, he and Rajapaksa “touched upon several areas of mutual interests between the two countries. We hope to take bilateral relations to new heights.”
Al-Harthy added that the Kingdom and Sri Lanka would work to develop commercial relations through new investment opportunities. He noted that both countries had economic projects on the go that could be attractive to investors.
The envoy pointed out that the two nations had enjoyed friendly bilateral relations for decades, with Sri Lankan missions in Riyadh and Jeddah, and he thanked the president for pledging to look after all citizens equally without discrimination.
The Saudi Fund for Development (SFD) had recently provided a concessional loan of SR187.5 million ($50 million) to establish a medical faculty at Sabaragamuwa University, said Al-Harthy, with the balance of $20.46 million being met by the Sri Lankan government.
Cooperation between Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia was initiated in 1981 through a $30 million SFD loan for a second water sector and sewerage project.
By the end of 2018, the fund had loaned a total amount of $386 million to Sri Lanka, mainly toward road, health, irrigation and community development, and higher education schemes.
In addition, around 150,000 Sri Lankans work in Saudi Arabia, generating large sums of foreign exchange for their nation’s coffers.
Sri Lanka set up its embassy in Jeddah in 1981 with Dickman De Alwis serving as its first charge d’affaires.
In 1993, the Saudi government reciprocated with a mission in Colombo, appointing Abdullah Al-Zahrani as its charge d’affaires. The Sri Lankan Embassy relocated to Riyadh in 1985.