Mon, Dec 29, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Pakistan regional meet to go ahead


A key South Asian leaders' summit will go on as scheduled in Pakistan early next month, officials said Saturday, despite security fears after two attempts to assassinate the host country's President Pervez Musharraf.

The last attack came close enough to crack the windscreen of Musharraf's armored limousine.

The summit is seen as a historic opportunity for Musharraf to cement recent peace overtures with rival Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Many had feared the meeting would be canceled following Thursday's twin suicide bombings on Musharraf's motorcade, which killed 15 people and injured 46 others. The government has said at least one of the three attackers was a foreigner, raising concern that international terrorists have their sights on the Pakistani leader.

But on Saturday, the leaders of all seven countries in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, or SAARC, said they'd attend the Jan. 4-Jan. 6 meeting in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.

Summit participants are expected to discuss a free-trade agreement for this desperately poor region.

"There's absolutely no change of plan," Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokhar said at a news briefing. "All participants at all levels have confirmed their presence in Islamabad."

That attackers could get so close to the 60-year-old Pakistani president so soon after the Dec. 14 attempt on his life has raised serious questions about the ability of Pakistan's security services to ensure the safety of the visiting leaders.

Khokhar played down those fears ahead of the summit, saying Pakistan was "confident the security arrangements will be very comprehensive."

"We don't need anybody's help," he said. "We are quite capable of looking after our own figures."

SAARC members are Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, the Maldives and Nepal.

The probe into the bombings was making headway Saturday and had been joined by several FBI investigators, said Interior Ministry spokesman Abdur Rauf Chaudry.

Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed claimed Saturday that investigators into Thursday's attack have "entered into" the terrorist network behind it, but he gave no details. "We will deal with them with an iron hand," he said. Officials have said a number of people have been detained since the attack, but would not say if any of them were considered suspects.

A senior government official, who requested anonymity, said on Saturday that investigators have identified the people who bought the two Suzuki pickups that tried to ram into the president's motorcade. One of the buyers is believed to have come from the Pakistani-controlled part of Kashmir.

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