Govt. to spend billions for SAARC

By Rohan Abeywardena

Government will table in parliament a massive supplementary estimate of more than Rs.2.88 billion to meet the cost of hosting the 15th South Asian summit in Colombo from July 27 to August 03, informed sources said yesterday.

Deputy Foreign Minister Hussein Bhaila, who confirmed the tabling of the supplementary vote, however was in the dark as to the exact sum being sought from parliament.

The 15th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) under the theme “Growing Together” of the now expanded eight member SAARC group of nations should have been held this year in the Maldives. But the Maldives indicated that it was unable to host the summit due to domestic preoccupations and Sri Lanka came forward to host it as the current year coincides with the country’s diamond jubilee of independence. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will hand over the SAARC Chair to President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Colombo summit.

At the last summit held in New Delhi in 2007 the grouping was expanded with the addition of Afghanistan as a full member. At the summit in Colombo, China, the European Union, Iran, Japan and the United States will attend as official observers.

The 15th summit will begin with a meeting of top officials, followed by the Foreign Secretaries’ and Foreign Ministers’ meetings. It will culminate with the summit of Heads of State or Government.
It is still not clear where the leaders will have their usual one-day retreat. Due to security reasons, officials are tight lipped about the exact venue. But one official said it would be in a Colombo suburb.
According to reports, the Sri Lankan government has been reassuring member countries it could provide adequate security for the SAARC leaders despite increasing deadly bomb attacks in and around Colombo.

Reports quote President Rajapaksa as informing SAARC Secretary General Sheel Kanta Sarma that all necessary security measures would be in place to protect some thousand delegates and media personnel.

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