Rajapaksa cuts short Nepal visit after attack on cricket team (Lead)

March 3rd, 2009 - 3:34 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, March 3 (IANS) Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa cut short his three-day state visit to Nepal Tuesday and is returning home due to security considerations after gunmen fired at the Sri Lankan cricket team in Pakistan.

Rajapaksa flies out of Kathmandu Tuesday afternoon, shelving his plan to visit the birthplace of the Buddha in Lumbini in southern Nepal Wednesday.

“The president is returning Tuesday due to safety concerns after the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Pakistan,” the Sri Lankan Embassy in Kathmandu told IANS.

The embassy had been on high alert since last month when it became known that the president would be arriving in Nepal to inaugurate direct air services between Colombo and Kathmandu. The decision to cut short the visit came after news that the Sri Lankan cricket team had been attacked by gunmen while on its way to the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore.

The Sri Lankan team was to play the third day of the second Test with Pakistan.

After attending a luncheon hosted by the prime minister at the renowned Yak and Yeti hotel in the capital, the Sri Lankan president will depart for Colombo around 4 p.m., the embassy said.

The visit to Lumbini was fraught with security threats in view of the open border between India and Nepal and the rise of armed groups in the lowlands.

Rajapaksa, who arrived Monday accompanied by his wife Shiranthi Rajapaksa, Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama and Minister for Export Development and International Trade G.L. Peiris, Tuesday held talks with Nepal’s Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, visited the Anand Kutty monastery in Kathmandu’s Swayambhu area and met officials at the SAARC Secretariat in the capital.

Sri Lanka is the current chair of the SAARC.

Rajapaksa’s visit was the first by a head of a foreign government to Nepal since 2002, when the Himalayan nation had hosted the 11th summit of the heads of the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation).

Nepal’s government had arranged for unprecedented security with over 1,500 police and army men deployed to guard the visiting presidential delegation, who also face the threat of attacks from the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

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