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No change in Saarc summit schedule

December 23, 2001

KATHMANDU, Dec 22: A summit of South Asian leaders here early next month will go ahead despite mounting tension between India and Pakistan, the head of Saarc said on Saturday.

Nihal Rodrigo, secretary-general of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, said he had personally received assurances from President Pervez Musharraf, Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and other leaders that they would attend the summit from Jan 4 to 6 in Kathmandu.

“In spite of the high tension building up in India-Pakistan political relations after the Dec 13 terrorist attack on the Indian parliament ... I am fully confident that the Saarc summit will be held,” Mr Rodrigo told AFP.

Mr Rodrigo said terrorism was “obviously” a pertinent issue for the summit and would be discussed in Kathmandu as “it has been troubling almost all the member countries of the Saarc.”

But Mr Rodrigo, a senior Sri Lankan diplomat, said the major achievement of the upcoming summit would be the signing of two conventions, one against the trafficking of women and children for prostitution, and the other on the welfare of children.

He said discussions would also continue on creating a South Asian Free Trade Agreement.

Saarc had previously set December 2001 as the deadline for a draft of the free trade agreement but it has been held up “due to various technical reasons,” said a foreign ministry spokesman from Nepal, which will assume Saarc’s chairmanship after the summit.

Saarc foreign ministers are due to arrive in Kathmandu in late December and the countries’ leaders will hold their summit from Jan 4 to 6.—AFP