President Chaim Herzog made an unannounced visit to Sri Lanka Thursday, on his way home from a two-week tour to Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia. It was a surprise to the entourage of reporters accompanying the President and something of a diplomatic coup for Herzog whose trip has come under criticism in the Knesset.
Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon, broke relations with Israel in 1968 and only recently moved toward restoring them after many years of nearly total boycott.
Herzog’s visit symbolized a rapprochement. He met with President Julius Jayawardene, with the Defense Minister and other top officials. Two years ago, Israel was permitted to open an interest section at the American Embassy in Colombo. Sources in Jerusalem expressed hope Thursday that the visit presages full diplomatic relations with Sri Lanka.
Despite their absence, Israel has in recent years sent agronomists and other technicians to the island nation south of the Indian subcontinent. It has also helped the Colombo government cope with the Tamil separatist movement. Sri Lankan leaders have conceded on occasion that their country has benefitted from Israeli aid and advice on security and counter-terrorism.
Herzog arrived in Colombo from Singapore where he had been warmly received by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, despite anti-Israel demonstrations by Moslem and pro-Palestinian elements. He reportedly told Lee that he would visit Sri Lanka but kept it from the press corp. Sri Lanka was not on his original itinerary.
Despite embarrassments that dogged his visits to Australia, New Zealand and Singapore and the last minute cancellation of his visit to the Philippines, Herzog said his trip was a success. It “put Israel on the map” in that far-off part of the world, he told Israel Radio in an interview after leaving Singapore.
There will be no Daily News Bulletin dated November 27, Thanksgiving, a postal holiday.
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