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A two-day conference of the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) ended here yesterday with a resolve to bring into focus rampant poverty in the region and support pro-poor, poor-centred strategies of eradicating poverty at grassroots level by breaking anti-people power nexuses.

"The poverty is the most serious issue that has to be handled both at national and regional level. The South Asian region has all the resources. Economies are growing, but poverty is also worsening," noted SAFMA, a Saarc-affiliated body of journalists.

Its observations came in the Colombo Declaration adopted at the conclusion of the conference on Media, Peace and Poverty Alleviation in South Asia.

The declaration also extended support to democratic aspirations and ongoing struggles of the people in those countries of the region where fundamental rights and democratic values are either under attack or are yet to be introduced or restored.

"We demand restoration of full-fledged democracy, independence of the judiciary, the rule of law and media freedom," the declaration of the conference says.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ratnasri Wickramanayake inaugurated the conference on Saturday while Nobel laureate Prof Muhammad Yunus delivered keynote speech as the guest of honour. Nearly 250 senior journalists from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka attended the meet.

The declaration identified increasing defence budgets and heavy debts as two major contributing factors to the phenomenon of worsening poverty despite economic growth.

"Therefore, we demand an early resolution of all conflicts and a considerable moratorium by the lending agencies and countries for the repayments of the debts," the declaration said.

It observed that globalisation has increased social vulnerability in South Asia and has seen deterioration of conditions on job market and food security.

The Colombo Declaration called upon Saarc member-countries to ultimately move towards South Asian Human Security by placing people, their wellbeing and rights to peaceful life and development at the centre of the security concerns rather than intensifying the arms race.

It urged the governments in South Asia to take concrete steps to implement the Saarc Social Charter and give priority to poverty eradication.

The declaration called on the Saarc countries to work for peace and stability in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka and collectively fight against terrorism and religious extremism or ethnic chauvinism.

The meet condemned the punitive and prohibitive measures taken by both state and non-state factors against the media and demand undiluted media freedom, right to know and freedom of expression in all countries in the region.

On Environment, the declaration said the South Asian region is under high environmental stress brought about by both natural and manmade causes. Intra-state and inter-State conflicts are a major contributor to environmental destruction.

The conference suggested the countries should act together on vast range of environmental issues in the region, which is witnessing phenomenal weather conditions like calamitous floods, earthquakes or tsunami and droughts by turns.

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