Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary Karunasena Hettiarachchi on Tuesday called on members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to unite in order to eliminate regional terrorism.

President Maithripala Sirisena had emphasised that every country of the SAARC should act with unity at a time when the very existence of organisation might be threatened, Hettiarachchi said at a SAARC panel discussion.

“South Asia is the poorest region and the number of people living below the poverty line rises each year, so there is a long way before the region reaches its target of poverty alleviation”, Hettiarachchi was quoted by Xinhua as saying.

He said that in the past few decades, South Asia had witnessed instances of violence and extremism and it recently became an epicentre for terrorism. 

However, with the combined efforts of the member states, SAARC has made progress and praiseworthy achievements in strengthening trade and social welfare and in its battle against terrorism, he said.

Hettiarachchi said that although some countries have made significant progress in economic growth, their influence in the region is still limited. Therefore, it is important for Saarc member states to cooperate and prioritise sustainable development goals and further development agenda.

“In some instances, the traditions of mutual respect have been lacking and, therefore, SAARC as an organisation for regional cooperation has not been able to achieve its full potential,” he said.