Foreign officials meet ahead of South Asian summit

NEW DELHI, March 31, 2007 (AFP) – South Asian foreign ministry officials began laying the groundwork on Saturday for a regional summit to be dominated by trade talk amid warming ties between rivals India and Pakistan.

The meeting of foreign secretaries will review the progress of panels formed under the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) forum which gets under way in New Delhi on Tuesday, a foreign ministry official said.

New Delhi has repeatedly called for improvements in trade, travel and telecommunications links among members of SAARC, long held hostage by hostility between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan.

“Economic connectivity… for us is very important,” India’s Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon said.

Menon said the summit will focus on travel, telecommunications and energy links in the region, which is home to nearly 1.4 billion people.

SAARC is made up of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Afghanistan will be formally inducted as the eighth member of the organisation.

For the first time, observers from world powers China, the European Union, Japan, South Korea and the United States will attend the summit.

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