Vol. 5 Num 215 Fri. December 31, 2004  
Front Page

Saarc Summit postponed
Dhaka wants to hold it on Feb 7-10

Dhaka yesterday postponed the 13th Saarc Summit indefinitely in the wake of Sunday's earthquake-triggered tsunamis that devastated three South Asian countries, but Foreign Minister M Morshed Khan also expressed interest to hold the summit, if possible, on February 7 to 10.

"As the host, Prime Minister Khaleda Zia has decided to defer the summit," scheduled for January 9 to 11, Foreign Secretary Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury told reporters yesterday at the foreign ministry.

He said, the decision that came only four days ahead of the scheduled pre-summit programming committee meetings "has been taken unilaterally by the Bangladesh side after consulting the other Saarc countries."

The decision will be immediately put on hold all summit preparations including security measures at Zia International Airport.

Morshed, meanwhile, told private news agency UNB that he had discussed the possibility of holding the summit between February 7-10 with Indian External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh during a phone conversation yesterday.

On the previous decision by leaders of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) to hold the summit in the first half of January, Chowdhury said, "That decision stands in principle. But, the present situation is beyond the control of any country and we are to be sensitive to this human tragedy."

He said, "Pakistan as the current chair of Saarc will initiate the process to fix a new date for the summit," and added, "All countries need to consent before Pakistan decides."

Islamabad will be given a block of time, after which the usual process of the Saarc Summit preparations will begin.

Before going for the postponement, Chowdhury spoke to the foreign secretaries of other Saarc members yesterday morning. "I have been in consultation with others and took stock of the situation."

Khaleda also called the leaders of the affected Saarc member countries--Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga, Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh--and decided against holding the summit on the scheduled date.

Sri Lanka, however, did not make a formal request to Bangladesh to postpone the summit, said Chowdhury, adding, "They sent us a message stating their situation is grave." Colombo said the situation in the island was becoming worse and they were keeping a close watch.

Asked if Dhaka would incur any additional cost due to the postponement, Chowdhury said, "Some money has already been spent, but the decision was taken strictly in view of the natural calamity."