Relaxing visa norms, coop in counter-terrorism on Saarc agenda

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Ajay Kaul

Thimphu, Feb 5 (PTI) Eight South Asian countries willdiscuss over the next four days ways to relax visa norms andtake forward various other initiatives including cooperationin fight against terrorism.

The SAARC Foreign Secretaries will meet here for twodays from tomorrow, taking stock of the various initiativesaimed at cooperation in security, forging greater connectivityand economic integration.

They will finalise a report that will be considered bythe meeting of Council of Ministers to be held on February 8and 9.

Ahead of these meetings, Joint Secretaries in-chargeof SAARC met here today to finetune the agenda.

The Saarc Visa Exemption Scheme is expected to be oneof the major issues on the agenda of the meeting which wouldbe attended by External Affairs Minister S M Krishna and hiscounterparts from other seven member nations, sources said.

There has been a proposal for expanding the list ofpeople from various fields of life to be exempted from visarequirement for travel within eight Saarc member countries.

At present MPs, judges, 100 identified businessleaders, sportspersons and 150 journalists are availing SaarcVisa facility.

Seeking a modification in the scheme, India wants thatthe prior approval should be accorded to the three categories� business persons, sportspersons and journalists.

Once the prior approval is taken, they may be givenspecial stickers with long-term multi-entry provision, sourcessaid, adding the idea was to improve the system so that it canbe implemented effectively without any fear of misuse.

The Saarc council of ministers'' meeting is alsoexpected to discuss the progress made in the implementation ofregional Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT).

The MLAT was agreed upon at the Saarc summit inColombo in 2008. Since then, India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, SriLanka and Maldives have ratified it but Pakistan, Afghanistanand Nepal are yet to do so, the sources said. .

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