Indian Ocean naval summit opens

NEW DELHI, Feb 14, 2008 (AFP) – India on Thursday launched its first naval summit aimed at forging ties with nations that have a stake in the busy maritime lanes of the Indian Ocean. Twenty-six representatives of navies from countries including Australia, Egypt, France and Sri Lanka are attending the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), seen by experts as an effort by New Delhi to assert its strategic presence.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, launching the two-day event, said regional cooperation would help navies combat piracy and terrorism.

“Recent years have seen a rise in crimes such as terrorism, smuggling, including of narcotics, arms and weapons, and piracy and robbery,” Singh said.

“The perpetrators of these crimes are well-organised and well-funded transnational crime syndicates who take full advantage of the vastness of the oceans. The need for cooperation among the navies of the region in preventing such crimes is therefore of paramount interest,” he said.

“India remains committed to an Indian Ocean that is stable and peaceful,” the prime minister said, calling for “the freedom of the seas for all nations… to deepen trade and economic links.”