Sri Lankan, South Asian leaders say must “root out terror” for economic progress

NEW DELHI, April 3, 2007 (AFP) – South Asian nations must “root out terrorism” to turn around the fortunes of their underperforming trading bloc, the countries’ leaders told a regional summit here on Tuesday.

Economic progress in the troubled region, home to nearly 1.5 billion people or one-fifth of humanity, is impossible without overcoming security issues, leaders of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) said.

“We should implement in a meaningful and sincere manner the commitment and pledge made to root out terrorism to create an atmosphere for our endeavour to succeed,” Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told the opening day of the two-day meeting in the Indian capital.

SAARC is made up of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka — accounting for half the world’s poor — and the seven countries signed a declaration on Tuesday admitting Afghanistan as a member.

The group, set up to speed economic development and trade, has made little progress since its formation in 1985, largely because it has been held hostage by tensions between India and Pakistan, which have fought three wars, two over the disputed Muslim-majority region of Kashmir