SAARC Summit begins amid tight security, Pak to probe Kabul blast

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Colombo, Aug 2 (UNI) Leaders of the South Asian nations today pledged to evolve a joint mechanism to fight terrorism, remove all hurdles for complete operationalisation of SAFTA and carry forward the ambitious plans for economic integration of the eight-member SAARC grouping.

Heads of State/Government who gathered here for the 15th SAARC Summit, felt that spread of terrorism and extremism hampered growth and development in the region.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his address at the Summit said,''We must act jointly and with determination to fight the scourge...to defend values of pluralism and the rule of law.'' His sentiments were echoed by other SAARC leaders including Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, Bangladesh Chief Advisior Fakhruddin and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse.

Even Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani, whose country is being blamed for nurturing and supporting terrorist elements, called for action against terrorism.

Dr Singh said the recent terrorist attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul and the serial bomb explosions in Bangalore and Ahmedabad were ''gruesome reminders of the barabaric acts'' and a determmined effort was needed to fight the scourge.

''...Terrorism should be crushed and not allowed to rear its ugly head. It remains the single biggest threat to development. We cannot afford to lose the battle agaisnst those who seek to destroy our social fabric,'' he said, while stressing the need for a stable South Asia.

He also stressed on defending the values of pluralism and rule of law and meeting developmental challenges.

All the participating leaders condemned the July 7 fidayeen attack at the Indian embaassy in Kabul and called for concerted action to end terrorism, which otherwise, threatened the region's peace and development.

Earlier, the Summit of the Heads of State/Government of the eight South Asian nations got off to a colourful start at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall.

Tight security arrangements had been made in the Sri Lankan capital with the elite secutiry personnel deployed throughout the city and even on rooftops leading up to the venue in the heart of the city.

Roads were deserted in an otherwise bustling city and all shops remained closed till 1100 hrs--when the Summit was inaugurated.

The highlights of the 15th SAARC Summit, which will conclude tomorrow, will be the signing of four significant regional agreements including the proposed Agreement on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters with the inclusion of a regional framework for cooperation in tackling terrorism.

The other three agreements are establishment of a SAARC Development Fund (SDF) to provide financial assistance for economic, social and infrastructure development projects in the region, setting up of a SAARC Standards Organisation and Afghanistan's entry into the SAFTA.

SAARC comprises eight countries--India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Representatives from the US, European Union, China, Iran, Japan, Mauritius, Republic of Korea, participate in the Summit as observers. Australia and Myanmar have also applied for Observer Status in the SAARC.

Editors pick up suitably from earlier and related series UNI RB AKJ HT2037

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