Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse on Tuesday praised former U.S. President Bill Clinton for supporting the South Asian country's efforts to recover from last year's devastating tsunami. "Let me assure you ... that your personal involvement in the post-tsunami reconstruction efforts of our country has been a great source of strength to all of us," presidential spokesman Chandrapala Liyanage quoted Rajapakse as saying at lunch with the former American leader. Clinton is on his third visit to Sri Lanka since the Dec. 26 tsunami killed more than 31,000 people and affected 1 million others in this small tropical island of 19 million people off India's southern coast.
"After you last visited us ... natural disaster visited your country," Rajapakse said about Hurricane Katrina. "Let me say that all Sri Lankans stood solidly with the American people in their moment of grief and suffering," he said.
Meanwhile, former Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga met with Clinton a day ahead of schedule at her request. Clinton was due to meet with Kumaratunga on Tuesday, but the meeting was switched to Monday night and took place at the presidential suite of the Colombo Hilton, Kumaratunga's secretary Piyadasa Dissanayake said in a statement.
"Kumaratunga expressed her admiration for Mr. Clinton's indefatigable service to his country and the downtrodden after his retirement," Dissanayake said.
Rajapakse was elected president on Nov. 17, replacing Kumaratunga, who finished serving the maximum two terms in office.
Clinton also met with heads of international relief agencies Tuesday and discussed post-tsunami recovery.
He is scheduled to visit Trincomalee, one of the areas hardest hit by the tsunami, and travel to the nearby hamlet of Kinniya, where he will meet Tamil and Muslim fishermen and visit a mosque where 22 children died while attending classes.
Clinton is scheduled to head to Indonesia on Wednesday, another country battered by the killer waves, reports the AP. I.L.