South Asia

SAARC must address terror, says Sri Lanka

On the same page: Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his wife, Maithree Wickremesingh, prior to a luncheon meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on Wednesday. Photo: V. Sudershan  

Pushing for revising the agenda of SAARC, Sri Lanka on Wednesday joined the growing demand that the regional organisation counter cross-border terrorism.

Addressing the media after a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, visiting Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe cited Sri Lanka’s experience with war and terrorism, and warned that SAARC would become irrelevant without addressing terrorism.

“The issue of cross-border terrorism is on the table and the heads of states of SAARC will have to address this challenge. SAARC will become irrelevant if cross-border terrorism is not addressed,” Mr. Wickremesinghe said.

“Cross-border terrorism might worsen if SAARC is thrown away,” he said and added that three countries out of the eight-member regional grouping was afflicted by security problems.

He, however cautioned against war.

“I don’t think war [India-Pakistan] is an option. Your Prime Minister has already taken a lot of steps to defuse tensions.”

“For India and for me, this is a crucial phase; a solution needs to be found. Let us see how we can move forward on dealing with this phase,” he said asking for diplomatic measures.

Sri Lanka was the fifth country to issue a statement against holding the 19th SAARC summit in Islamabad in November. He said Sri Lanka’s decision against attending the summit was decided through a process of democratic consultations, and highlighted that Sri Lanka was discussing “several options” in shaping the South Asian regional order.

Bilateral issues

India’s preparation to deal with the emerging challenges figured in Mr. Wickeremesinghe’s meeting with Mr. Modi on Wednesday and both sides discussed bilateral issues such as India’s aid and technical support to Sri Lanka. In his meeting with Mr. Wickremesinghe, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh appreciated that Sri Lanka “is in general agreement with India on the need for a UN CCIT [Comprehensive Convention against International Terrorism].”

Mr. Wickremesinghe met Union Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan.

He said that in the midst of the “crucial phase” in South Asia, his country would continue with the peace-building process that started following the end of the war against the Tamil Eelam fighters.

“Sri Lanka is a country that works in cooperation with the international community on the basis of truth seeking, justice, reconciliation and development,” he said.

Mr. Wickremesinghe’s demand on SAARC with a counter-terror focus follows India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan citing “cross-border terrorism”, “imposed war” and “interference” from Pakistan, and cancelled planned participation in the November SAARC summit in Islamabad.

Last week, Afghan Ambassador to India Shaida Mohammad Abdali also demanded that the SAARC should address the threat of cross-border terrorism.

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