07/29/2008, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Terrorism, energy, food crisis at center of SAARC summit

by Melani Manel Perera
The summit of South Asian countries has begun under the banner of a "partnership among peoples". Heads of state and government leaders are expected at the end of the week, and must find "shared solutions" to foster economic growth. Heavy security measures because of fear of attacks.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - Terrorism, food security, the energy crisis, and climate change: these are the main topics of discussion at the center of the 15th summit of the SAARC - an organization of south Asian countries - begun last July 27 in Colombo. On August 2-3, the leaders of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka will meet in the capital of Sri Lanka; in the meantime, diplomatic representatives of the various countries have begun work, addressing the main questions to be confronted in order to give a new boost to the economy and guarantee security in the region.

Rohitha Bogollagama, Sri Lanka's foreign minister, told the diplomats present that president Mahinda Rajapaksa hopes that the summit can provide useful, shared solutions for the region's most urgent problems. "The SAARC summit is a significant moment in our country's history", says the foreign minister, and the president is "happy to showcase Sri Lanka to the international community", thanks to the progress achieved in recent years.

Making reference to the slogan of the summit, which is promoting a "partnership among our peoples", foreign ministry secretary and media spokesman for the SAARC, Prasad Kariyawasam, emphasized that this is a good opportunity to "improve relations among nations and develop a common purpose" on economic development and security, focusing attention "on the concrete problems of the people".

In the next few days, the delegates are supposed to ratify four measures: 307 million dollars in financing for the SAARC development fund (SDF); the South Asian Mutual Legal Assistance on Criminal Matters; an agreement on the establishment of the South Asia Regional Standards Organization; and a pact for formal entry of Afghanistan into the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA). Also at the center of the discussions is the creation of a fund to resolve the food crisis, and of mechanisms aimed at moderating the rise in fuel prices, two long-standing questions that undermine economic development in the region.

The organizers have put heavy security measures in place, fearing attacks on the part of Tamil Tiger rebels (LTTE); the Sri Lanka government has deployed 19,000 additional security personnel, despite having called upon the Tigers to observe a "temporary cease-fire" during the summit.

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