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South Asian Nations Unite to Ease Tension, Promote Development

December 8, 1985

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) _ Seven South Asian nations representing a fifth of the world’s population pledged Sunday to pool their efforts to aid their poor and work toward ending the distrust that divides several of the countries.

The leaders of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives signed a charter forming the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, to the applause of hundreds of delegates and officials.

The regional group represents 1 billion people, including many of the poorest on Earth, and was formed to solve common problems of hunger, poverty and illiteracy.

But the association leaders also said they would help the member nations overcome disagreements that have led to wars and decades of bitter relations.

″We created an atmosphere of amity,″ said President Hussain Ershad of Bangladesh at the end of the two-day meeting. ″The outstanding issues between these countries, God willing, can be resolved.″

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since they were formed in 1947 from the division of British India. Relations between the two continue to be poor, with India repeatedly charging that Pakistan is building nuclear weapons.

Pakistan has denied the charges and says India poses the main danger to regional peace because Indian scientists have already exploded an atomic device.

India’s relations with Sri Lanka are poor because of Sri Lanka’s concern that India supports Tamil guerrillas fighting for an independent state on the island country.

Bangladesh also has clashed with India over border issues and shared water resources.

Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of India stressed in his concluding statement that association members would be equals despite vast differences in size, population and resources. The Maldives, southwest of Sri Lanka, for example, has 160,000 people, while India has more than 700 million.

″We have emerged as a democracy of nations where each has an equal voice,″ he said.

President Mohammad Zia ul-Haq of Pakistan expressed hope that the new group would led to agreements against the use of force by any member country toward other member countries, and against interference in each other’s internal affairs.

Zia said he believed the group would bring peace to the region and said his meetings with the other leaders had inspired greater trust.

Earlier, Gandhi said, ″Here in Dhaka we have witnessed the coming of a new dawn.″

But Sri Lanka’s president, Junius Jayewardene, sounded a warning note when he told other leaders the new group would face storms and even mutinies.

″The ship (of the association) will sail troubled seas,″ he cautioned.

The seven leaders, who held informal private talks earlier Sunday during a four-hour river cruise, also said the new group would give their nations a greater voice in world affairs.

″We now have the potential to exert a positive influence on the future direction of our global community, said King Jigme Singye Wangchuk of Bhutan.

In a joint declaration, the leaders called on the world’s nuclear powers to immediately begin talks toward a ban on making, testing and deploying nuclear weapons. It said world peace and security were vital if the planet’s poor nations were to progress.

The seven said they welcomed the Nov. 19-20 summit between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev and hoped it would reduce world tension.

They expressed concern about the prolonged crisis in the global economy. Developing nations have been hurt by reduced world trade, growing protectionism, sharp declines in prices for raw materials they produce, dwindling foreign aid and growing foreign debts, the declaration said.

The summit talks included private meetings on bilateral issues. Zia and Gandhi discussed ways to improve relations between their countries, and Zia will travel Dec. 17 to New Delhi for further talks.

The leaders agreed to hold annual summit meetings, with the next in November 1986 in New Delhi.

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