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News  


 

SL loses five-year fight

Member countries of Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multisectoral Technical and Economic Co-operation (BIMSTEC) approved by a secret vote of three to two the setting up of its Secretariat in Dhaka, Bangladesh delivering a permanent blow to Sri Lanka’s five year struggle to host it.
The decision was reached at the 13th Ministerial Meeting of BIMSTEC held in Myanmar last Saturday.
The Lankan delegation was led by Deputy Minister of External Affairs Neomal Perera and also included the Ministry’s Economic Affairs director Sumith Nakalanda.
According to sources, at the voting time, since both Sri Lanka and Bangladesh had offered to host the secretariat they had agreed to abstain from voting.
Foreign Secretary Romesh Jayasinghe said Dhaka had an apparent advantage as all BIMSTEC member states had a diplomatic presence in the capital city of Bangladesh.
The suspicion is that Bhutan, which does not have a diplomatic presence in Colombo, too may have voted for Bangladesh.
Jayasinghe said the meeting also decided to allow Sri Lanka to be the first Secretary General of the Secretariat.
Deputy Minister Neomal Perera said in the run up to the decision Bangladesh was the preferred country because of its central geographic location vis-à-vis its other members. And unlike originally planned the Secretariat though technically the Headquarters of BIMSTEC, will not be such big complex as it will primarily serve as a communication centre for its members to work from their respective countries. Its secretary-general which is a rotating post, however will be based there.
But critics charged that it was a clear example of our failure to canvas the member countries in advance.
“We can understand losing to a country like India but we lost to Bangladesh because we had not properly canvassed Buddhist countries that are in a majority in the grouping”, charged one critic.
The new sub-regional grouping named BIST-EC (Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand Economic Cooperation) was formed on June 6, 1997.
The name was changed to BIMST-EC after Myanmar, which attended the inaugural June meeting as an observer, joined the organisation as a full member at a Special Ministerial Meeting held in Bangkok on December 22, 1997.

Nepal was granted observer status by the second ministerial meeting of BIMSTEC held in Dhaka in December 1998. Nepal along with Bhutan was granted full membership of the sub-regional body later in 2004.
In the past, Sri Lanka under various regimes also lost chances of hosting any of the SAARC Secretariats.
The South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation is the other major South Asian grouping. (RA)