SAARC nations to focus on food, energy security, combating terror

By P. Karunakharan, IANS,

Colombo : The Standing Committee meeting in the run-up to the 15th SAARC summit began here Tuesday with the foreign secretaries of the eight member countries focusing on issues relating to regional food and energy security and collectively combating terrorism, officials here said.

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Addressing the media at the end of the first day’s session, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Prasad Kariyawasam said the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) which so far had a “declaratory status will be transformed into an implementation status” with this year’s theme “The SAARC: Partnership for our people”.

He said a number of issues, including the SAARC fund, regional food and energy security and combating terrorism at the regional level would be under focus in this summit at various levels.

“In addition to various agreements, the Colombo Declaration of food security will be declared at the end of the summit,” Kariyawasam said.

Speaking to reporters, Minister of Investment Promotion G.L. Peiris said: “The collective action on dealing with terrorism is a dominant issue before member countries as we all are facing the menace of terrorism.”

“Our region is inter-depending on all these key areas,” Peiris said.

The foreign secretaries-level discussions will go on Wednesday as well.

Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee and other foreign ministers of the SAARC member countries are set to arrive here Wednesday as the Council of Ministers meeting is scheduled for Thursday and Friday.

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.

The SAARC trade fair, a mini exhibition of local handicraft and a children’s art exhibition on the theme of “Partnership for Our People” have also been unveiled at the BMICH and the National Art Gallery respectively as side events of the SAARC summit.

The leaders of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka would gather at the BMICH main hall Aug 2-3 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.

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 entered into at the Colombo summit.