COLOMBO: Like Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena is also skipping the 17th Non-Aligned Movement’s summit being held in Venezuela's Margerita Island from September 13 to 18.
Sirisena will be represented by his Special Envoy Mahinda Samarasinghe, Minister of Skills Development and Vocational Training. Samarasinghe will represent Sri Lanka also at the ministerial segment to be held from September 15 to 16. The summit is being held under the theme “Peace, Sovereignty and Solidarity for Development”. Venezuela is the new Chair of NAM, taking over from Iran.
According to informed sources, President Sirisena had decided quite some time ago that he would not be attending the NAM summit as it immediately precedes the UN General Assembly session which he is keen on attending. If he attended both, he would have to be away from Sri Lanka for ten days or more, which, he felt, he could not afford.
The other factor is the decreasing relevance of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in South Asian and Third World politics, with most countries here being aligned with the US, Russia or China.
The security situation in Venezuela is also worrying. Recently, the UK had issued a travel warning which noted that there could be political protests, which could become violent with little notice.
However, Sri Lankan nationalists feel that Sirisena should not sideline NAM as Sri Lanka is one of its earliest members and had hosted a summit in 1976. NAM typically represents the voice of Asia, Africa and South America -the Developing World, as it were.
Sirisena could use NAM, which embraces 120 countries, second only to the UN, to spread its message on equitable economic development,post ethnic reconciliation and constitutional reform. But then, like India, Sri Lanka is now in the US orbit and sees NAM as being less relevant for the satisfaction of its immediate needs.