Sri Lankans in UAE celebrate country’s 66th independence day

Sri Lankan Buddhist priests joined Muslims, Christians and Hindus in chanting verses praying for peace and prosperity on the island nation’s 66th independence day.

Sri Lankan expats pray at a ceremony held to mark the 66th Sri Lankan Independence Day at the Consulate in Bur Dubai. Razan Alzayani / The National
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DUBAI // Sri Lankans prayed for lasting peace in their homeland during independence day celebrations on Tuesday, viewing this as a path towards economic development.

Sri Lankan Buddhist priests joined Muslims, Christians and Hindus in chanting verses praying for peace and prosperity on the island nation’s 66th independence day.

“I’m confident the country can continue to overcome challenges by uniting despite differences in religion and language,” said M M Abdul Raheem, the Sri Lankan consul general, during a function at the consulate in Dubai.

“We are fortunate and blessed to celebrate our independence day in a peaceful environment brought back in 2009 ... as long as there is communal harmony among ourselves then we can be unofficial ambassadors representing our land here in the UAE.”

The country’s civil war ended in 2009 when government forces defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels who had fought since 1983 for a separate homeland for minority Tamils.

Tuesday also marked the day the country won independence from the British in 1948.

“We won our freedom and we are also free from terrorism, so we must keep that peace for ever,” said Mohammed Riyas, an Islamic teacher among those who led the prayer service.

“Islam teaches you to respect each other’s religious places whether it is a temple, church or mosque, and if we treat each other with kindness and respect the whole of Sri Lanka can continue to live in peace.”

Urging tolerance, Devanand Mahadeva, a lawyer, read from Hindu scriptures and teachings of religious leaders.

“More development will bring more confidence to the country,” he said. “When the pace of infrastructure development and progress increases, people will feel confident and secure.”

About 250,000 Sri Lankans live in the UAE and annual two-way trade between the two countries is worth US$1.5 billion (Dh5.5bn) with a target of $2 billion this year.

Gathered at the consulate on Tuesday, Sri Lankan expatriates said continued peace would strengthen ties with the UAE.

“Safety and security has drastically improved and so the future between our two countries is bright,” said Farook Kassim, the chairman of the Sri Lankan Business Council.

“We are hoping more companies from Sri Lanka will come to the UAE in freight and logistics, IT, the financial sector as well as Islamic banks.”

Mohammed Giado, managing director of a computer firm, said the coming years would be critical.

“We are at a crucial phase of our nation’s history and the next two to three years will be important because everyone in the country wants development, and the most important ingredient is peace. Every citizen, no matter where he is from, is craving for peace and our only hope is that the country continues on this phase,” he said.

Expatriates applauded when the independence-day message from the Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, was read out by Mr Raheem.

“I share your dream to strengthen the Sri Lankan nation under a single flag in a united country,” the message said.

“Achieving this requires hard work coupled with diligence and honesty. It calls for patriotism that transcends the barriers of geography and community, with reconciliation and combined unity of purpose.”

The President, Sheikh Khalifa, and the Vice President, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, sent a congratulatory message to Mr Rajapaksa, reported Wam, the state news agency.