Terrorism Talks Overshadow South Asian Summit

South Asian leaders have agreed to work jointly to combat terrorism, eradicate poverty, ensure regional food security and enhance trade ties.  The declaration was affirmed in Sri lanka at the 15th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation . VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Colombo reports the conference was overshadowed by tense meetings on the sidelines involving several of the leaders.

As the SAARC summit concluded, Afghanistan and Pakistan agreed to devise a "common strategy" to deal with terrorism, including reducing the movement of extremists across their common border.

In a joint statement following a meeting between Afghanistan's president Hamid Karzai and Pakistani prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, the neighbors agreed to coordinate efforts to halt cross-border terrorism.

Not mentioned in the statement was the July 7 bombing of the Indian Embassy in the Afghan capital, in which about 60 people died.  Afghanistan and India have accused Pakistan's intelligence agency of masterminding the attack.

Mr. Gilani met Saturday with Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh.  The Pakistani leader promised to conduct an independent investigation into the embassy blast and possible links to his country's intelligence service.

The sideline meetings - and the presence of high-profile observers, including Iran's foreign minister - took the spotlight off the actual summit.

The leaders of the association's eight nations pledged a joint fight against terrorism through a convention on trading information in criminal matters, the establishment of a $300-million fund to fight poverty, and the expedited opening of a regional food bank.  They also pledged to improve cross-border trading by harmonizing quality standards.

The U.S. assistant secretary of state for the region, Richard Boucher, says such moves demonstrate the regional group is moving beyond the talking stage.

"I do not think any single organization or any single meeting is going to solve all these problems," said Boucher. "But I think every organization and every meeting should try to make a direct contribution and that is what the SAARC leaders have pledged themselves to do together.  And that is what we as observers are trying to work with them to do."

In remarks at the summit, the chief of Bangladesh's caretakergovernment, Fakhruddin Ahmed, said SAARC is finally living up to the ideals it proposed when it was initiated.

"This summit has rekindled the hope and belief among our peoples regarding the delivery and prosperity that we collectively promised 23 years ago," said Fakhruddin Ahmed.

The SAARC leaders represent more than one of every five people on the planet, but 40 percent of the world's poor.  The association is composed of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. 

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