Glitz and blitz at New York Ritz for huge Lankan delegation

Sunday Times, UK/September 9, 2007

President Mahinda Rajapaksa is to lead a delegation of more than 65 to the UN General Assembly sessions in New York later this month, with an advance party leaving as early as next week.

The Ritz Carlton hotel has been booked for the delegation. Each suite booked is priced at US$ 2,500 (Rs. 275,000) per night. This year's delegation has been split into three; a Presidential delegation, a First Lady's delegation; and a Foreign Minister's delegation. According to Foreign Ministry sources, the total will probably add up to about 85 by September 25 when the sessions begin.

Last year, the Sri Lanka delegation consisted of more than 50. At least five Ministers will accompany the President. They are Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama, Douglas Devananda, Anura Priyadharshana Yapa, C.B. Ratnayake and Champika Ranawaka. A delegation from the Foreign Ministry headed by the Minister will include Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona and High Commissioner to London Kshenuka Seneviratne.

Additionally, three other officials of the Ministry are expected to join the delegation by late next week. An assorted group of ruling SLFP supporters and loyalists, some of them holding US passports and living in different parts of the US have also been included in the Sri Lanka delegation. A wag at the Colombo Foreign Office remarked that this may be because they cannot get a place on the US delegation to the UN sessions.

President Rajapaksa is scheduled to address the General Assembly, and thereafter the SLFP local branch in the Buddhist Vihara in New York.

First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa has been invited to participate and speak at a 'peace summit' sponsored by the Universal Peace Federation, which has links to The Washington Times and is funded by the Korean evangelist Sun Myung Moon.

The Federation, whose Board of Directors include Rev. C.H. Kwak and Dr. Hyun Jin Moon, has ensured a wider participation by offering some of the participants, including Heads of State an honorarium of US$ 5,000, but there have been few takers so far. Marshal Island, Palua, Samoa, Vanuatu and Lesotho leaders have accepted the invitation to attend this meeting.

Foreign Minister Bogollagama will spend two weeks in New York, while the Presidential entourage returns to Colombo via Los Angeles in early October.

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