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Rajapaksa begins Nepal visit amid unprecedented security

After trouncing LTTE in the island-nation, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa began his three-day state visit to Nepal as a peaceful Buddhist pilgrim.

world Updated: Mar 02, 2009 22:13 IST
Anirban Roy

After trouncing LTTE in the island-nation, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Monday began his three-day state visit to Nepal as a peaceful Buddhist pilgrim.

Rajapaksa, accompanied by his wife Shiranthi, arrived in a special flight of the Sri Lankan Airlines, and was received by Nepal’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Upendra Yadav.

Fearing attacks by LTTE’s suicide bombers, the Nepal government arranged a foolproof security bandobast for Rajapaksa’s visit to the newly democratized Himalayan nation.

Vehicular traffic on the congested roads in Kathmandu came to a grinding halt on Monday because of the Sri Lankan president’s visit. Additional companies of Nepal Armed Police Force personnel were pressed into service for the security.

Even movements of people on the major roads were restricted. Two battalions of Nepal Army have also been put on alert for emergency duty for Rajapaksa’s visit.

Practically, Hotel Soalte Crown Plaza, where Rajapaksa is putting up, has been turned into a fort, and entry of people in the luxury hotel has been banned. In fact, he is the first head of state of any country to visit Nepal since 2002.

Two Sri Lankan ministers-Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama and Minister for Export Development and International Trade GL Peiris-are also part of the entourage.

Rajapaksa will fly to Bhairawa in southwest Nepal on Tuesday to visit Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha. He will also inspect the monastery built and maintained at Lumbini by the Sri Lankan government, the officials said.

The Sri Lankan president and his wife will also offer prayers at Anand Kutty Vihar, a Buddhist monastery in Kathmandu. “Nepal is a major pilgrimage for the Sri Lankans,” Shisira Kothlawala, a counsellor at the Sri Lankan Embassy in Kathmandu said.

During the visit, the Sri Lankan president will also sign two agreements with the Nepal government, officials of Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. The first agreement is a new air services accord, the officials said.

Both the Sri Lankan Airlines and Nepal Airlines will operate three days a week direct flights between Kathmandu and Colombo. “We expect a lot of Buddhist tourists from Sri Lanka to visit Nepal,” Kothlawala said.

Both the countries also have agreed to sign an agreement to set up a ministerial-level joint commission for educational, cultural and agricultural cooperation, the officials said.

Rajapaksa met Nepal’s president Ram Baran Yadav on Monday afternoon. A banquet was hosted at the Rashtrapati Bhawan in his honour.

The Sri Lankan president will meet Nepal’s PM Prachanda and Foreign Minister Upendra Yadav on Tuesday before flying to Lumbini on pilgrimage, the officials said. However, he will not have any interaction with the media.