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Foreign Ministry clueless about top US spook’s clandestine visit

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By Saman Indrajith

Foreign Minister Ali Sabry told Parliament yesterday that his ministry had received no information about CIA Chief William J. Burns’ alleged visit to Sri Lanka on Feb 14.

Making a ministerial statement in response to a series of questions raised by SLPP dissident MP Ven. Aturaliye Ratana Thera on June 22, the minister said that his ministry only provided necessary diplomatic clearances for the aircraft to fly to Sri Lanka.

Minister Sabry said that he had been aware that two aircraft of the United States Air Force had arrived at the Bandaranaike International Airport on Feb. 14 and according to the information provided by the Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Aviation and Airport and Aviation Services Lanka Ltd, a number of US officials had officially entered the country.

The Minister’s response to Ven Ratana’s queries: “This is my answer after consulting all the relevant agencies. While the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the link between the foreign countries, entities, institutions and ministries departments and institutions in Sri Lanka, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is not the focal point for the subject area that comes under the purview of the MCC. It is noted as an expert committee was appointed by the Cabinet in December, 2019 to review the MCC agreement and the final report was handed over to the former President in June, 2020. The proposed SOFA is an agreement between the US and Sri Lanka, according to the line ministry in this regard also the Ministry of Defence and information required in this regard could be obtained from the Ministry of Defence. ACSA is also an agreement that comes under the Defence Ministry. Relevant line ministry in this regard is the Defence Ministry and further information may be obtained from the Ministry of Defence.

“Therefore, it is appropriate to ask the relevant line ministry – the ministry of Defence regarding the reimplementation of these agreements and its current status and the purposes. I am aware that two aircraft belonging to the American Air Force arrived at the Katunayake BIA in the afternoon of Feb 14, 2023. According to the information provided by the Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Aviation and Airport and Aviation Services Lanka Limited, they have officially entered into the country.

“The two planes that had arrived at the Katunayake International Airport under No RCH 23/992142A and RCH 231/00215A. I further mention that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had done only the necessary diplomatic clearances for the aircraft to fly to Sri Lanka. The chairman of the Airport and Aviation Services Lanka Limited has informed that the names, passport numbers and Visa number of the persons who came in the two aircrafts could be obtained from the Department of Immigration and Emigration.

“Further the Airport and Aviation Services Pvt Ltd has informed this ministry that they are not aware of the fact to which organisation in the United States the said group belongs to and responsible for and have met with the parties or organizations in Sri Lanka bearing what responsibilities and what matters to the agreement were discussed in this meeting. And therefore, some of these questions seem to be referred to the wrong ministry. So, based on the evidence that we gathered, and the information which we acquired from different agencies, this is the information which I can provide to the question raised by Ven Aturaliye Ratana Thera on June 22, 2023.”

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