President Mahinda Rajapaksa Wednesday called for a common voice among South Asian nations on international issues and cooperation on eradicating terrorism regionally and globally.
"We gather here with renewed focus, desiring greater integration for peace and prosperity. SAARC has been evolving for almost three decades which is at a crucial juncture. There is a need to shift from traditional approaches and implement a result-oriented action that impacts directly on the people," he said while addressing the 18th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation in Kathmandu, Nepal.
He drew attention to his government's national plan focusing on rural development as an example for SAARC to follow since it has averaged over 7 percent growth and achieved less than 6 percent poverty, Xinhua reported.
He pointed out that SAARC still has over 25 percent of its population in poverty, insisting that this disparity needs to be addressed.
"This is a policy for SAARC. Trade and services need to be seen not as an end in itself but as part of a greater economy. Our attempt to establish a South Asian community by 2030 must take into account growth disparities and no part of SAARC should be left behind," he emphasised.
Climate change and the defining challenge of current times needed to be embraced by SAARC with a common position and become a significant voice on the global climate platform, he said.
He also praised India for developing and launching a satellite dedicated to SAARC.
Alternative energy resources were also highlighted by him to reduce dependency on traditional forms and improve regional engagement in the sector.
Pledging to complete a SAARC cultural centre in the Sri Lankan town of Matara in the near future, Rajapaksa said Buddhism could form a common platform for countries in the region to build trust and foster tourism.
He also appealed to the SAARC to declare a day to celebrate youth skills. Allowing air links to smaller cities in the region was also proposed to improve tourism.
Human rights should not be recognised as a political agenda, he asserted, and called on SAARC members to "resist external manipulations" and to work together in this sphere. He also asked leaders to come together on a common voice at international fora.
The eight SAARC member states will hold discussions for collective development at the two-day summit on theme of "Deeper Integration for Peace and Prosperity", which opened in Nepal's capital Kathmandu Wednesday.
Established in 1985 in Bangladesh, the SAARC is a regional association of eight South Asian countries, namely Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Afghanistan joined SAARC as its eighth member in 2007.(IANS)