Yonhap — Former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Wednesday said his latest visit to Seoul is expected to give a boost to the friendship and cooperation between his country and South Korea.
Rajapaksa arrived in Seoul on Friday for an eight-day visit at the invitation of a South Korean private charity, the Global Village of Love-Sharing, that included participating in an event to celebrate the successful birth of an Asian baby elephant to two elephants given to South Korea by Sri Lanka and a meeting with a group of Sri Lankan migrant workers.
The 71-year-old former president told a press conference at a Seoul hotel that he “was able to meet with key people from all walks of life and the visit will hopefully help enhance bilateral relations.”
His visit to Seoul came after the birth of the baby at the zoo in Gwacheon, just south of Seoul, on June 24. The Seoul Zoo successfully bred the endangered species after 22 years of efforts, with the baby elephant named Korelanka.
In 2010, then-Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa donated the two parents to South Korea as a token of friendship toward the charity group led by pastor Kim Hae-sung.
Rajapaksa’s close ties with South Korea date back to 1996, when Kim provided shelter and jobs to two young Sri Lankan migrant workers, including a nephew of Rajapaksa, who were starving and suffering from the cold weather, in the town of Gwangju near Seoul.
He thanked the charity leader for giving a helping hand to Sri Lankan workers and disaster-stricken victims in the South Asian island country.
Expressing his satisfaction that a baby elephant was born between the pair of donated elephants and is being taken care of by South Koreans, he said elephants seem to have brought the two countries closer together.
On Sunday, he gave a pep talk to a group of 5,000 Sri Lankan migrant workers at a Seoul stadium before attending a Buddhist ritual at Seokwang Temple in Bucheon, west of Seoul, on Tuesday, in which visitors could witness Buddha’s sarira that was donated by Rajapaksa in 2014.
Rajapaksa made the donation as a token of his appreciation for the temple’s implementation of education and culture projects in the South Asian country through a nonprofit organization, the White Elephant.
Asked what he talked about with the Sri Lankan workers, he said the workers told him they are generally satisfied with their life in South Korea and expressed their hope to obtain stable status during their stay in the host country, calling for the South Korean government to address the matter.
During the latest visit, Rajapaksa held talks with major South Korean officials and political leaders, including Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon and South Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, to discuss affairs of common interest and ways to enhance bilateral relations.
The latest visit marked Rajapaksa’s fifth trip to South Korea. In 2012, he made a visit to Seoul to hold a summit with then-President Lee Myung-bak.
South Korea and Sri Lanka established diplomatic relations in 1977.