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Let's not cloud SAARC process: Sinha

By Amit Baruah

KATHMANDU Aug. 22. The External Affairs Minister, Yashwant Sinha — here to attend the two-day meeting of the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) Council of Ministers — today declined to comment on India-Pakistan issues, saying that it had been India's endeavour not to allow bilateral issues to thwart or cloud the SAARC process.

When repeatedly plied with questions on Indo-Pak. issues, he pleaded with the press corps to change their mindset and not allow this matter to cloud the SAARC process. And on why he had not met his Pakistani counterpart, Mr. Sinha said bilateral meetings took place on the margins and it was not necessary that all the Foreign Ministers should meet on the sidelines.

Dispelling the impression that India was out to obstruct the SAARC process, Mr. Sinha said New Delhi was fully committed to the regional organisation and wanted it to become a "powerful instrument'' of cooperation. Both the meeting of the SAARC Council of Ministers as well as the Foreign Secretary-level discussions had taken place in a cordial atmosphere and no contentious issues were raised.

India's proposal that SAARC organise a Ministerial meeting on terrorism had been agreed upon. A Pakistani proposal to have a meeting of senior officials along with legal advisers to draft an additional protocol to the 1987 SAARC Convention on Terrorism had also been agreed upon. And the Ministerial meeting would discuss the draft of the additional protocol.

Mr. Sinha said that the issue of terrorism was dealt with comprehensively by the SAARC Council of Ministers. Asked about the delay in the implementation of the South Asian Preferential Trade Agreement and agreeing upon the draft text of the South Asian Free Trade Agreement, he said India had called for a speedy agreement on both the issues. These were the bedrock of cooperation as far as the SAARC nations were concerned. Mr. Sinha, who begins a bilateral visit to Nepal from tomorrow, will call on King Gyanendra, the Prime Minister, the Home Minister and hold talks with the Foreign Secretary. A banquet will be held in his honour by the Prime Minister tomorrow.

The Minister, who leaves for Dhaka on Saturday, has also been meeting with a cross-section of political leaders in Nepal. Separately, the SAARC Council of Minister received a Nepalese suggestion to hold a meeting of senior officials immediately after a summit meeting in order to draw up an action plan on the decisions taken at the summit. A statement from Nepal, which is the current chair of SAARC, said this evening: "A concept of troika/core group at the senior officials level from the past, present and future SAARC chairs has also been put forward to ensure timely implementation and follow-up on the decision(s). Nepal has been asked to further explore the concept of troika/core group and present it to the next Council of Ministers. The proposal has also underlined the need for augmenting the institutional capacity of the SAARC Secretariat to enable it to respond adequately to the emerging challenges as regional cooperation activities gather pace.''

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