Sri Lanka all set to host Saarc summit

July 26th, 2008 - 7:55 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By P. Karunakharan
Colombo, July 26 (IANS) Sri Lanka has finalised all arrangements to host the 15th Saarc summit, which opens here Sunday, where the leaders, ministers and officials of the member countries would focus on issues relating to regional trade, investment and combating terrorism. Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said Saturday that the government had taken all possible steps to provide best security cover for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) summit.

The summit opens in Colombo Sunday with the officials meeting, and followed by council of ministers meeting taking place on July 31 and Aug 1.

The leaders of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka will gather at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH) Aug 2-3 to thrash out agreements on various regional issues, mainly in the spheres of trade, education, cultural, tourism and other social issues.

“Overall, we are conscious of the need for security, which is an area one cannot compromise. There is nothing called good security. Security must be the ultimate and we cannot leave any gap,” Bogollagama told reporters.

Although the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has announced a 10-day unilateral truce, between July 26 and Aug 4, as a goodwill gesture for the SAARC summit, the ruling coalition led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, rejected this offer as “a trap”.

“There is no decision taken in order to maintain either unilateral or bilateral ceasefire with the initiatives from the government of Sri Lanka. We are looking at countering terrorism and restoring democracy. We have gone through this process in the past and we have learnt many a lesson,” Bogollagama said.

The government has deployed 19,000 additional security personnel to provide foolproof protection for the visiting leaders and their delegations in the capital of 650,000 people.

The hotels where the VVIPs will stay, the convention centre and the roads leading to these venues had been declared high security zones (HSZs). Shuttle buses would be used to ferry passengers in the HSZ.

Some key roads would be closed for traffic during the two-day summit. People working in offices located inside these HSZs and important vehicles travelling into the areas would be issued special police passes. Vehicles without passes have been asked to use alternative routes.

“This is the biggest heads of state gathering in Colombo since the 1976 Non-Aligned summit. It is a unique opportunity to host an important regional summit that comprises the leaders who represents 23 percent of the world’s population,” Bogollagama said, adding that the heads of states will assemble for first time in the country’s parliament before concluding the sessions on Aug 3.

Although all the heads of state will bring their own personnel to look after their security, media reports here and India indicate that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will come with scores of elite Black Cats. India is also sending helicopters and bulletproof cars.

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.

Bogollagama said that deliberations would also focus on how to “bring in the observer States to play major role within the Saarc fraternity”.

Four major agreements - on the Saarc development fund, the Saarc standard coordinating board agreement, the Saarc agreement on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, and the protocol on Afghanistan’s acceptance to the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (Safta)- are expected to be signed at the Colombo summit.

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