SAARC countries need new bilateral relations: Prime Minister

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday called for the need to develop new bilateral relations among SAARC member countries while working within the SAARC framework. The Prime Minister stressing on the need to address cross border terrorism asked, “All be committed to not allow any acts of terrorism and to condemn and take effective action in the case of terrorism in our region”.

Addressing the eighth SAARC Ministers of Law and Order (Interior/Home Affairs) meeting at Galle Face Hotel yesterday, the Prime Minister noted that the countries “needed to have different perspectives on how each interacts with the other in the region”.

While all countries within the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) have been plagued with the scourge of terrorism, the Prime Minister noted that the realities of SAARC meant that they also needed to look to have bilateral agreements within SAARC to resolve specific issues relating to member countries, “Have the regional framework, but it is also necessary for us to have different bilateral agreements within members, which was not contemplated when SAARC when it was started”, said Wickremesinghe.

“When you take drugs, our relationship with India and Maldives where small amounts of drugs come from are different to that of Afghanistan and Pakistan where large amounts come from. So our agreements when it comes to drugs with these countries have to be different,” he added.

“As the Secretary General of SAARC said, SAARC is a people centric organisation and thus we need to increase people to people contact.

And whilst we have free trade agreements with many, we are also looking at deepening ties with India as it is our closest neighbour and most trade is done with them. On the other hand, there is also emphasis with our agreements with Bangladesh, Pakistan and Maldives,” the Prime Minister added.

The Premier further stressed that bilateral relations should be formed without straining relationships within SAARC.

“All bilateral relations should be open and transparent,” the Prime Minister said while keeping the SAARC framework in place and slowly trying to improve the environment within SAARC,” Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said. “As the SAARC Immigration Authorities are also scheduled to hold their meeting to discuss easing visa regulations between SAARC countries to promote bilateral trade, the Prime Minister stressed that they needed to come up with ways to allow genuine migration while curbing terrorism,” the Premier said.

Premier Wickremesinghe has been continually pushing for collaboration within SAARC, especially when it comes to counter-terrorism activities,but,with the collapse of the SAARC Summit in 2016 due to a terrorist attack on an Indian Army base in Uri by an Islamic terror outfit allegedly linked to Pakistan, the Prime Minister at the time was found to remark that Sri Lanka would have to look at other viable options if SAARC did not deliver acceptable results for all.

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