Rajapaksa seeks Pakistan’s help in drug problem

Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, right, shakes hands with Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi during a meeting in Colombo on Monday. (AFP)
Updated 03 December 2019

Rajapaksa seeks Pakistan’s help in drug problem

  • Efforts should be made for growth in trade, investments, Lankan president says

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka has sought Pakistan’s help in its fight against drug trafficking and addiction, which was discussed in a meeting between President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Monday.

“Drug trafficking and addiction is a grave evil that my country is confronted with. We wish to seek Pakistan’s assistance to eradicate this menace,” Rajapaksa told Qureshi.

Qureshi, who is on a two-day visit to the island nation — following his maiden trip to New Delhi — extended an invitation on behalf of President Arif Alvi for Rajapaksa to visit Pakistan. Data provided by Sri Lanka’s Dangerous Drugs Control Board (DDCB) shows that more than 250,000 of the country’s youth are addicted to drugs.

DDCB Chairman Ravindra Fernando said that nearly 50,000 youngsters are addicted to heroin alone, while nearly 2,500 undergo rehabilitation every year.

On Monday, Sri Lanka destroyed $108 million worth of cocaine, seized by authorities in the port of Colombo, which is increasingly becoming a transit hub favored by drug smugglers in Asia.

Authorities also destroyed 928 kg of the drug, the largest cocaine haul in Asia, which was found in a container on a Colombian ship bound for India in December 2016, part of the more than 1,700 kg of drugs seized over the past three years.

Rajapaksa also asked Pakistan to help Sri Lanka fight extremism, adding that instead of financial aid, efforts should be made to ensure enhanced growth in trade and investments on a mutually beneficial basis.  The president expressed an interest in exporting the widely grown betel leaf, which is popularly known as “paan” in Pakistan and India.

Qureshi said that Pakistan was keen on strengthening bilateral relations with Sri Lanka, especially in the areas of economic development, trade, security and regional cooperation.

HIGHLIGHT

Data provided by Sri Lanka’s Dangerous Drugs Control Board (DDCB) shows that more than 250,000 of the country’s youth are addicted to drugs.

“We already have very close, friendly and warm relations with Sri Lanka. Pakistan hopes to further develop them, widening the scope of cooperation,” Qureshi said, adding that he is fortunate to be the “first foreign minister to have visited Colombo since the election of the new government.”

He added that the government was looking forward to working with Sri Lanka to conserve and develop Buddhist heritage sites found across Pakistan.

“We are eagerly waiting for your visit to Pakistan at your earliest,” he told Rajapaksa.

Qureshi was accompanied by Dr. Mohammad Faisal, director general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Tanvir Ahmad, acting high commissioner in Colombo, at the meeting.

Earlier, he had briefed his Sri Lankan counterpart, Dinesh Gunawardena, on the human rights’ crisis in Indian-administered Kashmir, adding that the lockdown since Aug. 5 remained a “cause of serious concern” for the international community.  During the meeting, the two ministers also discussed trade, investment and tourism.

Speaking to the media after the meeting, Qureshi described his meeting with the Sri Lankan foreign minister as “excellent” and extended an invitation to Gunawardena to visit Islamabad.

“There is a lot we can do to promote our mutual interest,” he said.

Following Rajapaksa’s victory, Pakistan Premier Imran Khan telephoned the president and invited him to visit Islamabad at the earliest opportunity.

Speaking to Arab News, N.M. Shaheid, Sri Lanka’s high commissioner based in Islamabad, said: “Pakistan has always honored Sri Lankan leadership devoid of color and party. President Maithripala Sirisena was invited as the chief guest in 2018 for Pakistan’s National Day celebrations. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is no stranger to Pakistan. He has received military training in Pakistan and many in top positions in the army are well acquainted with him. The Pakistan-Sri Lanka relationship will get to greater heights under the Rajapaksa regime.”


New Zealand troops complete daring volcano mission to retrieve bodies

Updated 13 December 2019

New Zealand troops complete daring volcano mission to retrieve bodies

  • The goal of the team from the bomb disposal squad was to recover the remains of eight people still on New Zealand’s most active volcano
  • White Island volcano sits semi-submerged 50 kilometers out to sea

WHAKATANE, New Zealand: Elite soldiers retrieved six bodies from New Zealand’s volatile White Island volcano on Friday, winning praise for their “courageous” mission carried out under the threat of another eruption.
At first light, two military helicopters set off from Whakatane airport for the offshore volcano, where an eruption last Monday killed at least 16 people and severely injured dozens more.
The goal of the team from the bomb disposal squad was to recover the remains of eight people still on New Zealand’s most active volcano, which sits semi-submerged 50 kilometers (30 miles) out to sea.
After a tense wait, while volcanologists monitored live seismic feeds for signs of another eruption, police said the majority of the bodies had been safely airlifted to a naval frigate anchored off the coast.
“Those staff showed absolute courage in order to ensure those six people were returned to their loved ones,” police commissioner Mike Bush told reporters, saying they were operating in an “unpredictable and challenging” environment.
Bush said efforts to locate the two remaining bodies were ongoing, with divers searching nearby waters after a corpse was seen floating in choppy seas on Tuesday.
Helicopters were also searching over the Bay of Plenty and Bush did not rule out a return to the island when conditions were safer.
Drone flights helped locate the six bodies on the caldera before the operation began and the eight-strong team labored to reach them in heavy hazmat suits and breathing gear that restricted movement.
Special forces commander Rian McKinstry said he was “incredibly proud” of the team, comprised of six men and two women.
“It was a unique operation, but unique operations are what organizations like the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Squadron gets involved in,” he said.
On the eve of the operation, GeoNet vulcanologist Nico Fournier said the dangers facing recovery teams if an eruption occurred included magma, superheated steam, ash and cannonball-like rocks thrown from the caldera at supersonic speed.
As the military began their grim task, police took grieving families out near the volcano on a boat to perform a Maori blessing and locals chanted karakia, or prayers, on the shore as the island smoldered in the distance.
Despite the risk of an eruption inside 24 hours being put at 50-60 percent, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said those involved wanted to help grieving families.
“It has been an incredibly difficult operation but it’s been such a priority. We just want to bring everybody home,” she told Australia’s ABC Radio.
Many of the tourists who died on the island were Australians and Canberra’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne said they had been affected by a catastrophic event.

“This is a time of absolute desperation and distress, and to every single one of those families and their friends and their loved ones, our hearts go out at this extraordinarily difficult time” she said.
The bodies on the island are thought to include New Zealand tour guide Hayden Marshall-Inman.

This handout photo taken and released by the New Zealand Defense Force shows elite soldiers taking part in a mission to retrieve bodies from White Island after the Dec. 9 volcanic eruption, off the coast from Whakatane on the North Island. (AFP)


His brother Mark Inman had epitomized relatives’ frustrations with stalled recovery efforts, criticizing “red tape, bureaucracy” but on Friday he praised the daring recovery attempt.
“It’s going to allow us to grieve and send our loved ones off in the manner they deserve,” he told the New Zealand Herald.
The recovery had been on hold for days as poisonous gases continued billowing from the volcanic vent and the island remained blanketed in a thick layer of acidic ash.
While troops were recovering the bodies, another 28 people — mostly tourists who had been on a day trip to see the natural wonder — were still being treated in hospitals across New Zealand and Australia, many in a critical condition suffering severe burns.
The survivors’ injuries are so severe New Zealand doctors initially estimated they would need to import 1.2 million square centimeters (185,000 square inches) of skin for grafts.
A total of 47 people were on the island during the eruption, hailing from Australia, the United States, Britain, China, Germany, Malaysia and New Zealand.
While Australian officials have only confirmed one dead, they say a further 10 were missing and presumed to have perished.
A coronial process has begun to identify those confirmed dead but police have said it could “take some time.”