9:24 AM

SAARC Declaration to Call for United Effort Against Terrorism

South Asian leaders meeting in Sri Lanka will today commit themselves to fighting terrorism in their region and call for joint efforts to fight what the Indian leader the "scourge of terrorism."
The eight leaders of the regional bloc will today wind up their two day summit after a morning "retreat" where they will exchange views and ideas without their supporting aides.
The "retreat" that has now become a regular feature following the practice adopted by the Commonwealth heads of government and leaders of the Asia Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) gives leaders an opportunity to express views freely.
It is expected that the issue of terrorism will figure prominently. The initial statements of regional leaders at the summit opening showed that this remained a major concern particularly after last month’s spate of bombings in India and against the Indian Embassy in Kabul in which two Indian diplomatic officials at the mission died.
President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh both made specific reference to these bombings while Pakistan Prime Minister Yosuf Raza Gilani called for a united front against terrorism.
Yesterday’s statements on terrorism indicated what could be expected in the summit declaration. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called terrorism the "biggest single threat" to stability and peace in the region and stressed that terrorists and extremists know no borders. He said that member states must fight to preserve democratic values of pluralism and the rule of law.
Earlier Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa who assumed the chairmanship of SAARC for the next year had pointed out that all countries in the region had faced terrorism and extremism at some time and some member states still do.
He was adamant in his stance that there are no good terrorists and that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations should be wiped out.
After the meetings of the SAARC Council of Ministers, its chairman Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama had said that terrorism will be included as an offence in the Mutual Agreement on Criminal Matters that is to be signed by the SAARC leaders.
At that point Bogollagama said he was not in a position to reveal details but it is understood that by incorporating terrorism within the meaning of the agreement will provide countries with more cooperation to prosecute terrorism-related offences.
This will enhance inter-governmental assistance such as exchange of information and intelligence.
The 15th SAARC summit has been a triumph for Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama whose first major conference involving regional leaders since assuming the office around 18 months ago.
This was the real test of Bogollagama’s prowess in steering SAARC in the coming year will be how well he is able to push through with the implementation of the people-centred policy that is at the heart of Sri Lanka’s year of chairmanship.
Bogollagama is very much a practical man and he would wish to leave his mark on the organisation before he hands over the reigns to the next leader of the Council of Ministers.
The opening ceremony featured colourfully-attired artistes performing a sequence of dances outside the impressive Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH) as the leaders were driven in to be greeted by the Sri Lankan foreign minister and then by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Also there to receive the visiting leaders and conduct them on stage was Sri Lanka’s new Chief of Protocol Sudantha Ganegama Aaratchi.