BY NISTHAR CASSIM IN NEW YORK
SEPTEMBER 21: President Mahinda Rajapaksa today kicked off his fifth engagement with the United Nations amidst a busy schedule, attending the plenary of the 66th General Assembly in New York and participating at luncheon of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon later on, followed by dinner hosted by US President Barack Obama.
The formal sessions started with Secretary General Ban in his address urging global leaders gathered at UN to “shape the world of tomorrow”.
“We have five imperatives – five generational opportunities to shape the world of tomorrow by the decisions we make today,” the Secretary-General said, as he presented his annual report on the work of the UN before the start of the debate.
Ban cited sustainable development; preventing and mitigating conflicts, human rights abuses and the impacts of natural disasters; building a safer and more secure world; supporting countries in transition; and working to engage the talents of women and young people.
In his speech Ban touched on a host of countries to stress the UN’s success in those or highlight challenges which the world leaders needed to address urgently.
Though some anticipated reference to human rights allegations in Sri Lanka during the battle against terrorism in May 2009, the UN Chief didn’t touch on the matter. His speech included reference to Guinea, Kenya and Kyrgyzstan and Cote d’Ivoire to highlight UN successes, and Afghanistan and Iraq pledging to carry on UN mission. Darfur, Sudan, Republic of the Congo and Sierra Leone were the other countries.
In terms of UN response to disasters, Ban highlighted Pakistan and Haiti and urged the world to save children of the Horn of Africa from acute famine. Disaster in Japan’s Fukushima was also pointed to. Ban also called for help to make the Arab Spring a true season of hope for all and referred to developments in Libya and Syria. He also urged for an early and peaceful negotiated resolution of the Palestinian and Israeli conflict. (See inside for excerpts of Ban’s speech).
Brazil President Dilma Rousseff today became the first woman in UN history to open the General Assembly debate following the address by President-elect Qatar’s veteran diplomat Nasir Adulaziz Al Nasser. US President Barack Obama also spoke.
External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris, Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena, Environment Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Secretary in New York Palitha Kohona and Secretary to President Lalith Weeratunga comprised the official Lankan team at the plenary.
President Rajapaksa is scheduled to speak on Friday, the same day when Japanese Premier Naoto Kan will also address the UN General Meeting. India will be addressing the General Assembly on Saturday. On four previous occasions, President Rajapaksa spoke on the opening day.
Health Minister Sirisena and Environment Minister Yapa separately addressed high level sessions on non-communicable diseases on Monday and desertification, land degradation and drought on Tuesday.
On the sidelines of the General Assembly, President Rajapaksa held a series of bilateral meetings. Today he met with heads of Iran, Nepal and Serbia, whilst on Tuesday he met with heads of Slovenia, Kyrgyzstan and Nigeria. During these meetings President Rajapaksa updated the leaders about Sri Lanka’s political, democratic and socioeconomic progress since the defeat of terrorism in May 2009.
Director General of President’s Media Bandula Jayasekara said that during the meeting with Rajapaksa, Slovenian President Dr. Danilo Turk had described Sri Lanka as a shining example of post-conflict reconciliation, rehabilitation, growth, development, normalisation and stability.
Meanwhile, Kyrgyzstan President Otunbayeva Roza, whose country was once part of the Soviet bloc, had expressed keenness to increase imports of Pure Ceylon tea from Sri Lanka and President Rajapaksa had assured the dispatch of a trade delegation from Colombo.
On Tuesday US Assistant Secretary of State for Central and South Asia Robert O. Blake paid a courtesy call on President Rajapaksa at the latter’s suite at the Ritz Carlton in New York. The President also attended a reception hosted by Senegal leader President Abdoulaye Wade on Wednesday night.