- Officials hopeful charter flights can commence from mid-2021
- Start of direct flights seen as good opportunity for tourism, education and trade relations
Sri Lanka may be able to commence charter flights to Myanmar from mid-2021, in the post COVID-19 phase to encourage tourism and trade links between the two countries, a statement from the Foreign Ministry said yesterday.
SriLankan Airlines Regional Manager (Southeast Asia) Mohan Meegolla had expressed this view at a meeting organised by the Foreign Ministry, the statement added.
The meeting was chaired by the Foreign Secretary Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage, to discuss the possibility of establishing air connectivity with Myanmar.
Participating at the meeting virtually, Sri Lanka's Ambassador to Myanmar Prof. Nalin De Silva said that air connectivity between Sri Lanka and Myanmar had been discussed for a long time, due to the significant Buddhist cultural connectivity between both countries.
He further stated that around 300 Buddhist Bikkus were presently studying in Sri Lanka and there were many Sri Lankan Bikkus and delegations visiting Myanmar for meditation and other religious purposes.
There is also immense potential for medical tourism from Myanmar. The Government of Myanmar, Tourism Associations and in particular the President of Myanmar has conveyed his keen interest in establishing air connectivity between the two destinations.
Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau Assistant Director Jeevana Fernando commended this as an excellent initiative and a timely act as Sri Lanka looks forward to welcome Buddhist tourists to the country, in the post-COVID phase. In this regard, the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau confirmed its fullest support to carry out an aggressive campaign to promote tourists from Myanmar.
The Foreign Secretary in his remarks stated that initiation of flights to Myanmar would facilitate tourists from both sides and it was timely as Sri Lanka was getting ready to open the airport on 21 January for tourists.
He also stated that President Rajapaksa wished to focus on immediate neighbours in Southeast Asia, in particular. The Foreign Secretary emphasised that Myanmar was one of Sri Lanka’s closest maritime neighbours and there was huge potential to enhance trade links.
The meeting was attended by the Foreign Secretary, Sri Lanka's Ambassador to Myanmar, Prof. Nalin De Silva, State Secretary and officials from the State Ministry of Aviation and Development of Export Zones, Additional Secretary (East), Deputy Legal Advisor and officials of the Foreign Ministry and the officials of the Sri Lanka Embassy in Myanmar, Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau and SriLankan Airlines.
Sri Lanka and Myanmar are steeped in a history based on Buddhism which dates back to 4th century BC. Many Bhikkus and laymen travelled to Sri Lanka frequently during the Anuradhapura Kingdom, and had close connections with King Vijayabahu I and King Parakramabahu I and King Vijayabahu II, during the Polonnaruwa Kingdom.
In 1865, the establishment of Ramanna Nikaya could be cited as a significant milestone of the enduring relationship with Myanmar. Sri Lanka established diplomatic relations with Myanmar in 1949 and celebrated 70 years of diplomatic relations in 2019.