President addressing the 71st General Debate of the UNGA
By Dharisha Bastians
President Maithripala Sirisena took the world stage for the second time in his tenure to address the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, with a clarion call for international support as Sri Lanka embarks on a process of political and socio-economic transformation in the aftermath of a 30 year civil war.
Dressed in white national suit and addressing the Assembly in Sinhala, President Sirisena used his 10-minute speech to explain that Sri Lanka had gained deep experiences from facing the scourge of terrorism for 30 years. “In my country, Sri Lanka, we are taking all steps to ensure there will never be war again,” said President Sirisena.
His Government’s priority was to strengthen national reconciliation processes and establish freedom and democracy in Sri Lanka, the President elaborated.
As they complete 20 months in office, President Sirisena said his administration was putting fundamentals in place to eradicate the climate of fear and suspicion in which he had assumed office, and working towards the creation of a “happy, free and democratic” society.
“We have entered a transformative era,” President Sirisena told the global assembly of world leaders and representatives of 193 UN member states in New York.
President Sirisena said that his Government had taken many important steps towards socio-economic transformation.
“I am determined to alleviate poverty in my country. For that purpose I have declared 2017 as the Year of Alleviation of Poverty. In order to improve the living standards of our people, we have to provide better facilities for economic development,” he told the UN.
President Sirisena said that as an island nation, Sri Lanka wants to maximise the utility of marine resources, and appealed for international support to acquire new technology and expertise.
He told the UN General Assembly that the world was full of hate and violence and fear. “We must free our people from such hatred and fear and establish a society with moral values,” he asserted to world leaders.
President Sirisena added that his Government was totally committed to the reconciliation process to establish lasting peace, and urged the international community to support his efforts to face these challenges.
Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera and Ministers Mahinda Samarasinghe, Arjuna Ranatunga, Gayantha Karunatillake and Deputy Minister Ajith Perera as part of the Sri Lankan delegation to the UNGA were in the assembly hall at the UN Headquarters as President Sirisena delivered his address.
Ban commends Sirisena
Outgoing UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had commended President Maithripala Sirisena’s commitment to reconciliation and good governance, when the pair met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly sessions in New York on Wednesday, the President’s Media Division said.
“The Secretary-General took his opportunity to convey his gratitude to the Government of Sri Lanka and the President for the warm welcome and hospitality extended to him by the Government of Sri Lanka and the people when he visited Sri Lanka recently,” the PMD said in a news release.
President Sirisena had also commended the great service rendered by the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to Sri Lanka, U.N as well as for the entire world and also particularly highly valued the service rendered through the Paris Convention by him, the PMD release said.
President meets US Secretary of State, Obamas in New York
President Maithripala Sirisena held talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York on Wednesday.
“It’s the second time we’ve been able to meet and we are very encouraged by the steps that the President is taking with respect to reconciliation and economic reforms,” Secretary Kerry said shortly before his meeting with President Sirisena.
“So the story of Sri Lanka is a great one and we’re really happy to be able to meet,” Kerry said.
President Sirisena also had a meet and greet with President of the United States Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama on the sidelines of the sessions in New York.
Following the meeting and photo opportunity, President Sirisena tweeted on his official Twitter account: “Thank you for the warm reception @POTUS and FLOTUS @MichelleObama.”