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Terror - SAARC home ministers decide to share info

Home ministers of SAARC countries declare terrorism a "serious threat" to peace in S Asia, reports Aloke Tikku.
Hindustan Times | By Aloke Tikku, New Delhi
UPDATED ON OCT 25, 2007 09:03 PM IST

Home ministers of SAARC countries unanimously declared terrorism a "serious threat" to peace in South Asia on Thursday and decided to shift gears so that information exchange on terrorists and criminals could be speeded up.

Ministers of eight countries also agreed to accelerate the processing of the draft convention on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters and upgrade the existing mechanism for cooperation and exchange of information.

Sri Lanka will play host to the meeting of legal advisers from SAARC countries for their second meeting to examine the draft convention that the ministers wanted to take forward. This draft convention will provide a vibrant regional legal framework to deal with trans-boundary criminal activities.

Delhi's draft on the anti-terrorism pact suggests cooperation in making detained persons available to assist investigations, taking measures to locate, restrain or seize the proceeds and instruments of crime, and taking necessary measures to locate, freeze and confiscate any funds meant for financing terrorist acts in the region.

It also recommends mutual assistance for locating and identifying persons and objects associated with terrorism, providing information and searching and seizing terrorists and arms.

There has been broad agreement on the contours of the draft at the last meeting of the convention. The next meeting is expected to see member countries trying to bring convergence vis-à-vis specific points.

"The meeting noted that terrorism remains a serious threat to sustainable peace and development in the SAARC region," Union Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta told reporters at the end of the three-day conference of SAARC home ministers.

It also called for strengthening of institutional mechanisms to facilitate closer co-operation, frequent interaction and regular exchange of information amongst law enforcement agencies to combat terrorism and crimes like drug trafficking, money laundering, human trafficking, arms smuggling and counterfeit currency.

In the light of the need for more frequent and higher level of interaction, it was also decided to upgrade the conference on cooperation in police matters. Pakistan will host the next meeting of the police chiefs in 2008.

The minister also decided to strengthen the SAARC Terrorist Offences Monitoring Desk and the SAARC Drug Offences Monitoring Desk in Sri Lanka. India has offered assistance in improving its infrastructure.

A declaration issued at the end of the meeting also called for pro-active and sustained measures to combat drug trade and terrorism; issues that were the focus of two regional conventions.

The conference also agreed to include retired Supreme Court judges and serving High Court judges in the consolidated list of persons covered under the SAARC visa exemption scheme. Officials of the SAARC Secretariat would also to be provided with a special tenure-linked dispensation in this regard.

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