|Address by His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the inaugural Session of the 15th SAARC Summit|
|Saturday, 02 August 2008 00:00|
Page 1 of 2Your Excellencies
I am honoured and privileged to welcome you to Colombo for this fifteenth SAARC Summit.
Your presence in our country adds to the historic importance of this year for us. This year, our nation celebrates the sixtieth Anniversary of our being freed from the yoke of colonial rule. Most of the nations of our region share with us the common heritage of colonial dominance and struggle for freedom to restore our national dignity and honour.
I consider it my duty on this occasion to express on behalf of all Member States of SAARC, our deep appreciation for the dynamic leadership that India has provided to this region and to SAARC since the fourteenth SAARC Summit in New Delhi.
I would also take this opportunity to welcome and extend best wishes to the new Secretary General of SAARC, Dr. Sheel Kant Sharma, while also expressing our appreciation to his predecessor, Mr. Chenkyab Dorji and the SAARC Secretariat for their dedicated and invaluable work in preparation for this Summit.
This Colombo Summit takes place amidst a background of significant political events and major international issues, such as food and fuel insecurity and degradation of the environment. It is our responsibility as leaders and representatives of our peoples to give tangible expression to the SAARC Charter objective of promoting the welfare and improving the quality of life of our peoples, which remains at the core of all our common endeavours.
The Delhi Summit launched SAARC as a Partnership for Prosperity, for the Prosperity of Our People, identifying the importance of connectivity as a powerful engine of growth. Continuity, consistency and coordination are all vital to have the desired practical effect towards our goal of regional economic integration.
However, we must ensure that SAARC becomes more meaningful to all our people. Therefore, throughout the ensuing year we have to give SAARC a truly people-centred focus through all its programmes and mechanisms. It is then that SAARC can become the robust Partnership for Growth for all our people.
South Asia’s continued progress in economic and social development is a matter of great satisfaction to me. Unemployment in our country, as well as in the region, has reached historic low levels leading to declines in overall poverty. South Asia is no more the poverty trough of the world, although we have yet to eradicate poverty from our midst.
Yet, for growth to be sustainable, its benefits must be evenly distributed, pro-poor strategies must be put into place, and the rural populations that make up the vast majorities in all our countries, must be empowered ensuring gender equality.
The SAARC Social Charter and our shared experiences and best practices, already provide a solid foundation to further strengthen empowerment of the rural people. In our own country, the Policy Vision of the Mahinda Chintana, my electoral pledge to the people of Sri Lanka, addresses this issue and seeks to transform current challenges into opportunities for the upliftment of the rural people.
It is a matter of satisfaction that we are progressively inaugurating, in each of our countries, SAARC villages as visible examples of our collective commitment to rural uplift. The most recent such village was opened on 27th July this year in Nawalapitiya, in the central hill region of Sri Lanka.
Excellencies and Friends,
As we meet today, most countries of our region are faced with the curse of terrorism that threatens the peace and stability that is needed so much for the forward march of our people. No country in the SAARC region has been spared of this plague. We need to redouble our efforts for collective action to combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. It is important to remember the element of interdependence which is crucial for a durable peace and the protection of democratic values in the region.
We must ensure strengthening regional legal mechanisms and intensifying intelligence sharing, in order to secure the region’s collective prosperity, peace and stability. Further, I would strongly suggest that in-depth studies are carried out to understand the social impact of this menace. Sri Lanka has seen the benefits of such cooperation in combating the terrorism in our midst and hopefully eradicating it sooner, than many once expected.
My gratitude must go to all our regional partners and our many friends from other quarters that have cooperated with us in this matter. In my view it is also necessary that we, as a region, endeavour to set right the many wrong impressions that exist, or are promoted elsewhere, about the actions that are imperative to protect our people and societies from the brutalities of terrorism. Terrorism anywhere is terrorism and there are no good terrorists or bad terrorists.