PM leaves for Colombo to attend SAARC summit

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New Delhi, Aug 1: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh left here for Colombo this morning to attend the 15th SAARC Summit for brain-storming sessions on issues including terrorism, development and food and energy security in the region.

The two-day Summit of the Heads of State/Government of eight South Asian nations, being held under the shadow of a spurt in terrorist activities in the region, is likely to be dominated by discussions on collective action against the scourge. ''South Asia is vulnerable to terrorism and collective action is needed to curb the scourge,'' External Affairs Ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said. Negotiations have already been initiated on an agreement on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters which are likely to be finalised during the two-day Summit tomorrow and on Sunday.

There is also a possibility that some documents would be signed.

India, which is the current Chairman of the SAARC, will hand over the Chair to Sri Lanka on the inaugural day of the Summit.

Later today, the Prime Minister will have a bilateral meeting with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse after arrival in the Sri Lankan capital. In the evening, he will meet the Indian community there.

Sources said the Prime Minister was also likely to have a meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gillani on the sidelines of the Summit. Offficials, however, did not confirm.

Asked whether the Prime Minister would raise the issue of attacks on Indian fishermen by Sri Lankan navy, the spokesman said the issue had been raised by India several times in the past.

He said a bilateral meeting would take place between the leaders of the two countries on the first day. He, however, did not specify whether the issue would be discussed.

The government has been under pressure back home to get back the Katchateevu island from Sri Lanka and scrap the 1983 agreement that recognised the island as a part of that country.

The Summit will also discuss an increase in the number of Observers. Presently, the US, EU, China, Japan, Republic of Korea and Iran have Observer status in the SAARC. Australia and Myanmar have shown interest for Observer status.

The spokesman said India would be handing over the Chairmanship of the SAARC to Sri Lanka ''with satisfaction'' and emphasised that India had worked very hard to move the eight-nation grouping from declaratory to implementation stage.

He expressed confidence that Sri Lanka, as the new Chairman, would take the process forward.

''We will add to the momentum to ensure that economic growth and development takes place in the region,'' he said.

Referring to the SAARC Development Fund (SDF) which has been set up to assist needy nations of the region, the spokesman said a cell had been set up at the SAARC Secretariat.

India has already transferred 19.23 million US Dollars to the fund and proposes to give the remaining amount out of a total commitment of 99 million Dollars by the end of the financial year.

Sources said four agreements were likely to be signed during the Summit.

Progress is also being made on setting up a South Asian university and on development of a rail network. India has donated about 100 acres of land for setting up a South Asian university in New Delhi.


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