President Maithripala Sirisena arrived at the John F. Kennedy Airport in New York amidst tight security as the city suffered a major security threat with an explosive device going off on the previous day injuring 29 persons, last Sunday (18). He was received at the Loews Regency Hotel by Minister of Foreign Affairs Mangala Samaraweera, Deputy Minister of Power and Renewable Energy, Ajith P. Perera, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to UN, Dr. Rohan Perera, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Washington, Prasad Kariyawasam and other officials.
Dr. Rohan Perera, speaking to media few minutes before the President’s arrival said that the visit of President Sirisena is of extreme importance to Sri Lanka as the 71st Session of the UNGA is dedicated to review the progress of the programme adopted on the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals at the last year’s Summit.
The President was also to handover the Sri Lanka’s Notice of Ratification of the Paris Declaration on Global Warming adopted at the April 2016 Environmental Summit held in Paris. Once the Notices of Ratification are submitted by the majority of the UN member nations, it will be formally announced at the current 71st Session of the UNGA, Dr. Perera said.
President Sirisena was scheduled to meet Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, US Secretary of State John Kerry, Indian Minister of State for External Affairs, M. J. Akbar, Nepal Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, World Economic Forum Chairman Prof Klaus Schwab and Millennium Challenge Corporation President Dana J. Hyde.
The UNO Secretariat and the surrounding areas were under a heavy security blanket after the explosion that took place within hours of the arrival of advance delegations. President Obama and several others arrived in New York on Monday (20)
On Monday afternoon, the New York Governor declared that the city of New York was safe and all the security arrangements were in place for the UNGA.
President Sirisena was staying at a room on the 10th Floor at Loews Regency Hotel when emergency alarms started to ring prompting security personnel to guard VVIPs in the hotel on the third day of stay.
Hotel management announced guests to remain in their rooms until they cordon search the hotel to find what made alarms to go off.
Later it was revealed that a minor smoke on the second floor activated security alarms and many were seen exhaling the breath they were holding thus far.
President Sirisena handed over the instruments pertaining to entry into force of Paris Agreement on Climate Change to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on 21 September.
Following which, UN Secretary-General Ban said the Paris Agreement has galvanized engagement of the United Nations in fighting climate change at the highest level.
US Secretary of State John Kerry described this ratification as a landmark event that lays a solid foundation for the climate-resilient transformations of the global economy.
The Paris Agreement was opened for signature on 22 April 2016 at a high-level signature ceremony convened by the Secretary General in New York. At that ceremony, 174 States and the European Union signed the agreement and 15 States also deposited their instruments of ratification.
Currently, there are 185 signatories to the Paris Agreement. Of these, 61 States have also deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance or approval accounting in total for 47.78% of the total global greenhouse gas emissions.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon highly appreciated President Sirisena’s total commitment to good governance and reconciliation.
He did it when he met President Sirisena in New York on 22 September.
The Secretary-General took the opportunity to convey his gratitude to the Government of Sri Lanka and the President for the warm welcome and hospitality extended to him when he visited Sri Lanka recently.
President Sirisena commended the great service rendered by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to Sri Lanka, the UN as well as for the entire world and also particularly highly valued the service rendered through the Paris Convention by him.
The Secretary General also said that media and several others seemed to have misunderstood the remark he made during one of his speeches in Colombo referring to Rwanda. Ban explained that he never intended to compare Sri Lanka to Rwanda or put Sri Lanka in the same category as Rwanda as projected by certain media. However, Sirisena smiled it off saying that it is not a matter that should be dwelled upon.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said the government of the United States highly appreciates and admires the direction taken by the new government of Sri Lanka, and the US was ready to extend every possible assistance to the country when Kerry met President Sirisena on the side-lines of the UNGA.
President Sirisena said that the current government of Sri Lanka continues the path towards economic progress and reconciliation.
He further stated that the government is facing a lot of challenges from the destabilizing forces in the North as well as the South, who want to deter the reconciliation process.
“For example, some of the small minority of the people in the North refused to go back to their lands due to pressure from the extremist groups”, he said.
“Similarly, some Southern groups are engaged in decrying the reconciliation process. But the unity government is determined to implement the intended programmes despite such oppositions”, he said.
He clarified that although there are differences among the policies of the unity government, they have agreed upon a broad policy formula and continue to implement it.
Therefore, strengthening the stability of the government remains uncompromised as it is committed to fulfilling the aspirations of the people who elected this government on 8 January, 2015, he said.
The US Secretary of State congratulated the President on the achievements of the government during the past several months and reassured US support to the Sri Lankan Government.
President Sirisena said, the world leaders have commended Sri Lanka on the achievements of the last 18 months and that is a great incentive, encouragement and a blessing for Sri Lanka. He said this while briefing media on his discussions with several Heads of State and other leaders at the Loews Regency Hotel in New York.
He said that during the last UNGA too, he met these leaders, but they were more curious about the new government’s policies then. “Now they express open appreciation about our achievements. I assured them that we, as a government, are determined to take the country towards progress and make Sri Lanka a truly democratic and prosperous nation,” he said.
The current respectful position of Sri Lanka is something the entire nation, irrespective of party politics could be proud of, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera said, and added that the credit for this achievement goes to President Sirisena. Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said, he had attended the UN sessions since 2002, and today he could see a remarkably favourable attitude towards Sri Lanka among the international community. Minister Gayantha Karunathilake said that the world leaders have a tremendous respect for Sri Lanka because our President tells the world, whatever he tells the people at home, whereas previous leaders used to say something at home and a different thing when they are out of the country.
As President Sirisena and the SL delegation were attending UNGA, Northern Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran sent a wake-up call to Tamils by holding a massive protest under the banner Ezhuga Thamizh.
The Tamil People’s Council (TPC) led by Chief Minister Wigneswaran was leading the ‘Ezhuga Thamizh’ (Let Tamils Rise!) demonstration, which was allegedly held to oppose the systematic settlement of Sinhalese people in the ‘Tamil dominated region’ and the erection of Buddha statues in an area devoid of Buddhist devotees.
Wigneswaran in a letter had called on ‘Tamil speaking brothers and sisters’, to participate in the Ezhuga Thamizh demonstration.
The demonstration which virtually brought Jaffna to a standstill had apparently had the backing of EPRLF and PLOTE and the Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) led by Gajendra Kumar Ponnambalam.
However, ITAK, the largest constituent party in the TNA and TELO did not participate in the demonstration.
Jaffna District MP M.A. Sumanthiran, was quoted as saying even though the party was not opposing the demonstration they were concerned about the timing of the demonstration.
We are not opposing the protests. We only urge the people to consider the timing of the rally. It is a time when the TNA is engaged in serious negotiations with the government on a settlement to the Tamil question, he was quoted as saying.