PM to meet Rajapaksa, Prachanda next week


New Delhi : India will discuss its concerns about civilian sufferings in Sri Lanka in the wake of the military offensive when President Mahinda Rajapaksa comes here next week to attend the second BIMSTEC summit, a seven-nation grouping that acts as a bridge between South Asia and Southeast Asia.

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Rajapaksa will be among leaders of other BIMSTEC – the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation – countries to attend the Nov 13 summit that India is hosting. The grouping comprises India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Myanmar and Thailand.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will also hold talks with Nepal’s Maoist Prime Minister Prachanda on the sidelines of the summit.

India has expressed its concern at the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka and emphasised the need for unhindered essential relief supplies when External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee met Basil Rajapaksa, a senior advisor to President Mahinda Rajapaksa last month. Colombo had agreed to limited relief supplies to civilians caught in the conflict.

In an interview with IANS after the talks, Basil Rajapaksa assured that New Delhi and Colombo were “genuine friends” and that his country would keep civilian casualties in the war against the Tamil Tigers “to the very minimum”.

The BIMSTEC summit Nov 13 will be preceded by a meeting of foreign ministers and senior officials of these countries.

The summit will focus on enhancing transportation and connectivity between the member countries that circle the Bay of Bengal. It will culminate in a joint declaration, N. Ravi, Secretary (East) in the external affairs ministry, told reporters here Friday.

In August, foreign ministers of the BIMSTEC countries met in New Delhi and firmed up a convention for collectively combating terrorism in the region and discussed a wide array of issues ranging from energy and climate change to intensification of economic ties in the region

The convention on terrorism, that includes intra-regional cooperation in intelligence sharing and legal and law enforcement issues, is likely to be signed during the summit.

The leaders of six countries will call on President Pratibha Patil, Ravi added.

The leaders are likely to give a political push to the negotiations on trade in goods under the proposed Free Trade Area agreement at an early date.

Setting up a permanent secretariat for BIMSTEC, which currently functions from Bangkok, will also figure in the discussions.

A series of bilateral meetings will be held between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the leaders of these countries on the sidelines of the summit.

During their talks, Manmohan Singh and Nepal’s Prime Minister Prachanda are likely to discuss a revision of the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship to which they had agreed during the visit of Prachanda to India in September.

India will stress on accelerating the process of reconciliation in Myanmar and emphasize that it should be inclusive when the two sides hold talks on the sidelines of the summit, Ravi said.