Significant part of SAARC summit shifted from Kandy to Colombo

March 9th, 2008 - 1:24 pm ICT by admin  

By P.K. Balachandran
Colombo, March 9 (IANS) A significant part of the forthcoming summit of South Asian heads of government would be shifted from Kandy in central Sri Lanka, to the capital city of Colombo, for “logistic and other reasons”, an official said. “A significant section of the summit will be held in Colombo for logistic and other reasons. A formal statement to this effect will be made later,” Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona told IANS Sunday.

The Sunday Times had quoted foreign ministry spokesman Ravinatha Aryasinha as saying the shift was necessitated by considerations of security, mobility and accommodation.

He said while the actual summit would be held in Colombo, the cultural programmes would be held, as planned earlier, in Kandy.

The summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), bringing together the heads of government of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives and Afghanistan, was to be held entirely in the hill town of Kandy between July 27 and Aug 3.

Kandy, that houses the historic Buddhist Temple of the Tooth, was the capital of Sri Lanka prior to the take over of the country by the British in 1815. It remains the cultural capital of the majority Sinhalese-Buddhist community.

But Kandy had posed security and logistic problems. Its hill roads are narrow. There is not enough hotel accommodation to put up over 3,000 officials, support staff and journalists who are expected to descend on the tiny town that also attracts tourists in the summer months.

The government had a plan to spend SLRs.2 billion ($18.5 million) on making Kandy fit to hold the summit. According to The Nation weekly, shifting to Colombo would bring the expenditure down to about SLRs.600 million ($5.5 million).

Nevertheless, the government will have to spend SLRs.98 million (about $I million) to hold even the cultural events in Kandy.

The SAARC conference is an important event for Sri Lanka as a whole, and for President Mahinda Rajapaksa particularly, because it will show that the country is secure, though facing Tamil Tiger terrorism.

The government is of the view that its troops have gained an upper hand in the war against the Tiger separatists in north Sri Lanka. And although terrorist bombings are going on in Colombo and other parts of south Sri Lanka, the government has the manpower and wherewithal to sanitize the areas earmarked for the summit.

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