Indian, Pakistani FMs to hold bilateral talks in Colombo

July 30th, 2008 - 6:38 pm ICT by IANS  

By P. Karunakharan
Colombo, July 30 (IANS) Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee is set to hold bilateral talks with his Pakistani counterpart Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi on the sidelines of the SAARC Council of Ministers meeting Thursday, highly placed diplomatic sources here said. The two-day Council of Ministers meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is commencing Thursday morning at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH).

According to Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry sources, the foreign ministers of Pakistan, Bhutan and Bangladesh had arrived here by Wednesday noon while the Indian Foreign Minister was arriving later in the day.

“Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee is holding a series of bilateral meetings Thursday here. This includes the meeting with the Pakistan foreign minister as well,” a top Asian diplomat said.

He, however, refused to divulge the agenda for talks between Mukherjee and Qureshi.

A Pakistan diplomat here confirmed that Qureshi, who is meeting the Sri Lankan foreign minister Wednesday evening, is scheduled to meet his Indian counterpart Thursday afternoon at the BMICH.

In his arrival statement, Qureshi said Pakistan and Sri Lanka have traditionally enjoyed close friendly relations “which are based on mutual respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in each other’s state”.

“Our cooperation at international fora is mutually beneficial,” he said.

He also said that the SAARC Council of Ministers would “review the progress on the implementation of the decisions taken by the 14th SAARC Summit held in New Delhi in April 2007, and give further direction to SAARC on various issues of common interest including food security, energy cooperation, environment and climate change etc”.

The leaders of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka will gather at the BMICH main hall Aug 2 and 3 for the 15th SAARC summit, aiming to thrash out agreements on various regional issues, mainly in the spheres of trade, education, cultural, tourism and other social issues.

The US, Japan, China, South Korea, Iran, Mauritius and the EU will participate, at the foreign ministers level, as observer states. Australia and Myanmar are also seeking observer status.

Special security measures are in place in and around Colombo, with not less than 19,000 additional troops being deployed in the city of 650,000 people, aiming to provide fool-proof security for the summit.

Armed police, elite Special Task Force and tri-service personnel are a common sight on the city roads, most of which are refurbished ahead of the summit.

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