The issues confronting the seven member countries _ India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Maldives _ of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation forum in their meetings Nov. 12-13.
_FREE TRADE: The leaders are expected to push for meeting a deadline for creating a South Asian Free Trade Area by January 2006. Lowering trade barriers is an important step toward the goal of creating a regional economic union by 2020 that will cover one-fifth of the world's population.
_DISASTER MANAGEMENT: SAARC leaders are expected to accept India's offer to host a South Asian disaster preparedness and management center in a region where about 130,000 people were killed over the last year by a devastating tsunami and a deadly earthquake.
_TERRORISM: The issue of cross-border terrorism is highly sensitive. India claims that Pakistan trains and supports Islamic militants fighting in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Pakistan denies it and maintains the militants are legitimate freedom-fighters. However, their relations have been improving since the last SAARC summit held in Pakistan in January 2004.
_POVERTY REDUCTION: Poverty is endemic in the region, where millions of people lack safe drinking water, have no access to basic sanitation facilities and many go hungry everyday. The seven nations will recommend the reconstitution of the South Asian Development Fund by merging existing and proposed funds into a SAARC Development Fund. The new fund will total US$300 million (Ђ250 million) and will be used for taking up various development projects, AP reported. V.A.
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