New Delhi, Dec 7: SAARC countries have decided to set up a regional security network and finalise a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) for cooperation against criminal activities.
Foreign Ministers of SAARC countries who met here today for the 29th session of the SAARC Council of Ministers, also decided to immediately operationalise the SAARC Development Fund and agreed that development of regional infrastructure for trade, as part of regional connectivity in South Asia, be given priority.
External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, while briefing reporters on the day's deliberations, said a meeting of Legal Advisors would be held in Colombo (Sri Lanka) in April next year to finalise the draft of the treaty.
''The Council of Ministers endorsed the SAARC Home Ministers recommendations for a security network within SAARC. They directed that the Draft Agreement on Mutual Legal Assistance Criminal Matters be finalised as soon as possible. A meeting of Legal Advisors to attempt to finalise the Agreement will be held in Sri Lanka in April 2008,'' he said.
Under the Treaty, the SAARC countries would exchange information about any criminal and terrorist activities in their respective countries as all the countries have been victims of terrorism.
''We should have mutual legal assistance agreement among SAARC countries and prevent undesirable activities...Home Ministers of SAARC countries are regularly reviewing security in the region from time-to-time,'' he said.
The Minister denied that there had been any discordant views among SAARC nations on the agreement and said this agreement is to be expedited so that it is operationalised quickly.
The meeting decided to move SAARC from the ''declaratory phase into the implementation mode'' and reviewed the implementation of the decisions taken at the 14th SAARC Summit held in New Delhi on April 3-4, Mr Mukherjee said. About immediate operationalisation of the SAARC Development Fund, the Minister said a temporary cell will be established in the SAARC Secretariat for its operationalisation and implementation of identified projects from available funds.
Several projects identified by the Ministerial and other meetings, including in social sector and physical connectivity projects, would have a corpus of 300 million US dollars, India has already committed 100 million dollars which would be used to fund social projects. More projects would be taken up after assistance from other countries is received.
The External Affairs Minister said social projects would now be implemented in all countries. These are : maternal and child health including immunisation, empowerment of women and other disadvantaged sections of society and capacity building aimed at enhancing quality of education including teacher training.
The Physical Corridors are : Linkage from Phuntsholing to Hashimara, procurement of customs-related equipment for faster clearance of cargo, Birganj-Kaatihar-Singhabad-Rohanpur-Chittagong with links to Jogbani, Biratnagar and Agartala.
It also includes linking Kathmandu-Birganj-Kolkata/Haldia and Agartala, Akhaura-Chittagong.
Air links between Male and New Delhi and Islamabad and New Delhi, Rail Corridor between Colombo and Chennai and Ferry Service between Colomco and Cochin and Colombo and Tuticorin have also been decided.
A project on tele-medicine is also commencing implementation and all the countries have identified hospitals for it. The Council of Ministers also agreed that development of regional infrastructure for trade, as part of the overall regional connectivity in South Asia would be given priority. The Foreign Ministers expressed deep concern at the phenomenon of climate change and expressed conviction for a global response.
The External Affairs Minister also held bilateral meetings with his counterparts from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives and discussed regional and international situation.