Thimphu (Agencies): Eight South Asian countries, including India, on Wednesay approved a proposal to exempt 19 categories of people from visa requirement and agreed on a liberalised scheme under which select journalists, business persons and sportspersons can be given long-term multi-entry visas after prior clearance.
A meeting of SAARC Foreign Ministers, attended by External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, also endorsed India's proposal for setting up of a SAARC Forum, a grouping of non-government officials which will act as a pressure group on governments to enhance the integration.
Revisiting the SAARC Visa Exemption Scheme, the meeting approved a proposal under which visa regime could be liberalised for select journalists, business persons and sports persons, sources said.
These three categories of people can be given multi-entry visas for 90 days after prior clearance is taken, they said.
People from 19 other categories, including members of Parliament, diplomats and non-government people involved in SAARC projects, will get SAARC stickers from the respective Foreign Ministries exempting them from visa requirements, the sources said.
The SAARC visa stickers would ensure that their travel is not limited to any specific cities and would save them from the hassles like police reporting and filling of extra forms on entry in any of the eight SAARC countries.
The issuance of visa stickers would be the discretion of the Foreign Ministries, they said.
The SAARC member countries also agreed on various steps concerning the SAARC University, like early convening of the Governing Board meeting, which has been delayed for long as a result of which several crucial decisions have been pending.
The Governing Board will now meeting early next month which could set in motion the appointments to the Steering Committee and firming up of rules and regulations for the university, the sources said.
The President of the University, which has been established in Delhi, will also be selected from India. The government of India will nominate three eminent persons among whom one person 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 that SAFTA ministerial meeting will take place in Maldives in May to consider ways to enhance intra-regional commerce.
The meeting took note of the fact that the intra-SAARC trade has already cross one billion USD mark and there is potential for raising it manifold, the sources said.
During the meeting, representatives of the respective countries made presentations about what they are doing in countering terrorism.