S. Asian summit begins in Sri Lanka amid tight security+
Sat August 2, 2008 00:04 EDT .
COLOMBO, Aug. 2 (Kyodo) _ Leaders of eight South Asian countries together representing 1.5 billion people kicked off their 15th summit meeting Saturday amid tight security involving 20,000 armed police and troops within the Sri Lankan capital.
A meeting of the foreign ministers of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Afghanistan, Bhutan and the Maldives preceded the summit of the heads of state or government of countries grouped into the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation that opened at Colombo's convention center spruced up for the occasion.
Security, including the presence of two Indian warships off the coast of Colombo and three Indian military helicopters parked within the city's high security zone, underlined India's concerns about the safety of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who arrived here Friday for the meeting.
''India has not forgotten that the Tamil Tiger rebels in 1991 assassinated Rajiv Gandhi who was campaigning'' to return to the prime ministership, said Nanda Godage, a retired Sri Lankan ambassador who has served in New Delhi.
''But they have learned from their mistakes and it's inconceivable that they would try anything again,'' he said.
Although the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have as a gesture of goodwill declared a 10-day unilateral truce, not reciprocated by the Sri Lanka government, India is taking no chances with a large contingent of its elite Special Protection Group here to protect Singh.
Two armored vehicles have also been flown here for the Indian prime minister's use. Sri Lanka too imported several armored limousines for the use of the VIP guests.
Myanmar and Australia were formally admitted Thursday to participate as observers of the meeting, joining China, the European Union, Iran, Mauritius, Japan, South Korea and the United States.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told reporters that the foreign ministers at their meeting agreed to guidelines for the future induction of observers.
Responding to criticism that SAARC has for too long been a talk shop with little or no tangible results, he said the group must now ''move from a declaratory stage to an implementation stage.''
Sri Lanka, which says its war with the LTTE that has cost over 70,000 lives in three decades is not an ethnic problem with the country's Tamil minority but a ''terrorist problem,'' is particularly interested in a resolution to criminalize terrorism in the region, which the foreign ministers have agreed on and is due to be presented for endorsement by the summit.
''The future of SAARC hinges on its ability to bring about a meaningful cooperation among its members vis-a-vis economic and security issues affecting the region,'' The Island newspaper said in its editorial.
Prabath Sahabandu, the paper's editor, said SAARC's failure to produce results has made cynics dub it NATO -- ''no action, talk only.''
''We only hope that there will be a difference this time around, where the antiterrorism pact is concerned,'' he said.Discuss this story
Published: Sat Aug 2 01:49:04 EDT 2008