With terror high on SAARC agenda, PM goes to Lanka Friday (Lead)

July 31st, 2008 - 9:00 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, July 31 (IANS) Reeling from terror attacks on two Indian cities and a suicide attack on its mission in Kabul, India Thursday underlined the “need for collective action” by South Asia to combat terrorism as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Friday heads to Colombo to attend the 15th SAARC summit. Terrorism has climbed to the top of the agenda of the 15th summit of the eight-nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation as the SAARC leaders Tuesday consider a regional legal assistance treaty to deal with the menace of terrorism.

Manmohan Singh will travel to Colombo Friday morning to attend the two-day summit where terrorism is expected to be high on the agenda considering the “vulnerability” of the region to the scourge.

A day before Manmohan Singh leaves for Colombo, the Indian foreign office here underlined the need for a “collective action” among SAARC countries to tackle the scourge of terrorism.

Alluding to the July 7 attack on the Indian mission in Kabul that also killed two Indian diplomats, external affairs ministry spokesperson Navtej Sarna said the incident “underlines how vulnerable South Asia is to the scourge of terrorism.”

The proposed agreement for SAARC Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters will be discussed at the conclave, he said while underlining the need to create “crime-free atmosphere” that is required for peace and prosperity in the region.

The pressing issue of terrorism will be on focus when Manmohan Singh meets Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Reza Gilani on the sidelines of the SAARC summit.

Increasing connectivity, trade and operationalizing a regional food bank will be among other core issues that will be discussed at the two-day SAARC summit Saturday in Colombo where India will hand over the baton to Sri Lanka.

Foreign ministers of SAARC countries will end their two days of deliberations in Colombo Friday, thrashing out much of the contentious issues so that they become easier for their leaders to take forward.

Manmohan Singh’s visit will be the first by a Congress prime minister to Colombo since the eventful days of July 1987 when Rajiv Gandhi went there to sign the India-Sri Lanka accord with then president J.R. Jayewardene in a bid to end Tamil separatism.

Immediately after his arrival in Sri Lanka Friday afternoon, Manmohan Singh will meet President Mahinda Rajapaksa - who considers himself a friend of India. The two leaders may again meet later in the evening.

The Indian prime minister will also interact the same day with some political leaders and groups of Indian origin. It is not clear yet if Manmohan Singh will meet the Tamil chief minister of Sri Lanka’s eastern province, Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan, a former Tamil Tiger guerrilla.

Among the others attending the meet will be President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom of the Maldives, Nepal’s caretaker prime minister G.P. Koirala, Bangladesh Chief Advisor Fakhruddin Ahmed, Pakistan Prime Minister Gilani, Bhutan Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Sri Lankans have repeatedly complained that while their leaders keep visiting India, Indian leaders do not return the compliment. There was a proposal to invite Manmohan Singh to Colombo in February this year to attend the 60th anniversary celebrations of Sri Lanka.

Manmohan Singh’s visit also comes at a time when the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka has continued to cause pain and suffering, leaving thousands dead since fighting resumed towards the end of 2005.

Also attending the SAARC summit will be observers from China, South Korea, Japan, Iran, the US and the European Union. Two other countries, Australia and Myanmar, have sought observer status.

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