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SAARC cooperation: Visa exempt, SAARC University in Delhi

Cooperation of South Asian countries (SAARC) yesterday approved a proposal to exempt 19 categories of people from visa requirement.

They also agreed on a liberalised scheme under which selected journalists, business persons and sports persons can be given long-term multi-entry visas after prior clearance.

People from 19 other categories, including members of parliament, diplomats and non-government people involved in SAARC projects, will get SAARC visa stickers from the respective foreign ministries exempting them from visa requirements

A meeting of SAARC foreign ministers in Thimpu, Bhutan, also endorsed India’s proposal for setting up a SAARC Forum, a grouping of non-government officials, which will act as a pressure group on governments to enhance the integration.

The visa stickers would ensure that their travel is not limited to any specific cities and would save them from hassles like police reporting and filling up extra forms on entry in any of the eight SAARC countries–Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

The issuance of visa stickers would fall under the discretion of the foreign ministries, they said.

SAARC member countries also agreed on various steps concerning the SAARC University in Delhi, early convening of the governing board meeting, which has been delayed for long and as a result of which several crucial decisions have been pending.

The president of the university will be selected from India. The Indian government will nominate three eminent persons among whom one will be chosen by the governing board.

The meeting also approved India’s proposal for setting up the South Asian Forum. The steering committee set up for the purpose will meet in April to take the proposal forward.

In the field of trade, the council of ministers decided that South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) ministerial meeting will take place in the Maldives in May to consider ways to enhance intra-regional commerce.

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