NATIONAL

Vajpayee, Musharraf to stay in same hotel

KATHMANDU, DEC. 30. The Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, and the Pakistan President, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, will stay in the same hotel here when they come to participate in the three-day SAARC summit from January 4, but a formal meeting between the two appears unlikely.

The `Princep wing' of Soaltee Crown Plaza comprising four floors, each floor having 20 to 30 rooms, has been kept ready for the Prime Minister, a hotel official said. The Pakistan President will be staying in an adjacent wing in the sprawling hotel complex.

Preparations for the 11th summit are in full swing here, despite rising tension in the region and a state of emergency declared in the Himalayan kingdom to tackle Maoist insurgency.

Security has been beefed up in and around the venue, the SAARC Secretariat, the Tribhuvan international airport and places included in the itinerary of the visiting dignitaries.

Mr. Vajpayee and Gen. Musharraf have confirmed their participation in the meet being held in the country for the first time after democracy was restored.

In contrast to the war of words between New Delhi and Islamabad, Nepal still hopes that the summit will bring together the leaders of the two countries and help reduce tension.

The capital city has received a facelift and banners have been put up all along the route from the airport. ``SAARC a vision of South Asian solidarity'', ``long live SAARC spirit'' and ``may SAARC strengthen peace and solidarity in South Asia'' read some.

``Force of circumstances will certainly bring leaders of India and Pakistan closer and a retreating and a friendly environment in Kathmandu will help change their attitude towards one another,'' an optimistic Nepalese Finance Minister, Mr. Ram Sharan Pahat, said. While the issue of terrorism is likely to figure prominently at the summit, poverty alleviation and the South Asian Free Trade Agreement are among the other issues that will be taken up.

Two conventions relating to social issues of girl trafficking and child protection are expected to be considered for adoption. The Kathmandu Declaration will be adopted on the concluding day on January 6.

Nepal hosted the third Saarc summit in 1987 which was presided over by the late King Birendra. Next week's summit will be presided over by the Nepalese premier, Sher Bahadur Deuba.

A year after the Colombo summit in 1999, the summit scheduled to be held in Kathmandu was postponed, following strong objections to the participation of the military regime in Pakistan, where Gen. Musharraf had overthrown the Prime Minister, Mr. Nawaz Sharif.

- PTI

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