Prime Minister leaves for Sri Lanka to attend SAARC summit

August 1st, 2008 - 11:06 am ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, Aug 1 (IANS) Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Friday left for Sri Lanka to attend the 15th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) that groups eight countries from the world’s most populous region. Manmohan Singh will join leaders from Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Maldives besides host Sri Lanka during the two-day summit in the very heart of Colombo from Saturday.

India will hand over the chairmanship of SAARC to Sri Lanka in Colombo.

Also attending the SAARC summit will be Presidents Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom of the Maldives and Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka, caretaker Prime Minister G.P. Koirala of Nepal, Bangladesh Chief Adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed and Prime Ministers Yousuf Raza Gilani of Pakistan and Jigmi Thinley of Bhutan.

On Friday, soon after his arrival, Manmohan Singh will hold bilateral talks with Rajapaksa. Another round of meetings could follow later in the day. The Indian leader is also expected to meet other Sri Lankan political leaders.

In a statement on the eve of his departure, the prime minister said: “Today, there is a realisation amongst SAARC countries that it is only by cooperating within SAARC that we will be able to strengthen ourselves individually and as a region and address the many common challenges that face us.”

Referring to the establishment of a SAARC Development Fund and the SAARC Food Bank, and the proposal to establish a South Asian University, a free trade area (SAFTA) and greater people-to-people contacts, he said: “I am confident that the forthcoming summit will consolidate these gains and provide an impetus to the implementation of the many decisions that are in place”.

The prime minister said he was looking forward to holding bilateral meetings with leaders of other SAARC countries on the sidelines of the summit.

Manmohan Singh returns to India Sunday night, to play host on Monday to Karzai, who will be on a day’s state visit to New Delhi on his way to Kabul.

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