The 16th Saarc Summit is likely to be deferred until at least the first quarter of 2010 as the host the Maldives expressed its inability to arrange the gathering before October 2009 amid the current economic recession.
The summit of the eight-nation South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (Saarc) grouping was scheduled to be held in the island nation in September this year as decided at the 15th Saarc Summit in Sri Lanka in 2008.
Diplomatic sources said the Maldives Foreign Minister Ahmed Shaheed at a meeting of Saarc Council of Ministers in Colombo recently expressed its incapability to arrange the summit as the country is seriously affected by the economic meltdown.
The meeting requested the Maldives to set up a new schedule before October. But the Minister said the Maldives, dependent on tourism industry, would not be able to hold the summit after October, as it is the peak season for tourists of the island nation.
It may be mentioned that the Maldives earlier expressed its inability to arrange the 15th SAARC Summit in 2008 because of its general elections and Sri Lanka then came forward to host the summit which coincided with the 60 years of its independence.
Sources said it is still unsettled who would host the next summit as the Maldives yet to decline to host the gathering. It offered to host it in the first quarter of next year.
However, Bhutan, which never hosted the Saarc summit since its birth, for the first time has officially proposed to arrange the summit in spring (MarchApril) 2010.
Diplomatic sources said Bhutan on March 13 contacted the Saarc Secretariat in Kathmandu saying it would host the 16th summit in the spring of 2010.
Meanwhile, the visiting Saarc Secretary General Sheel Kant Sharma yesterday informed Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina that the summit is likely to be held in Nepal, according to the Prime Minister's Press Secretary Abul Kalam Azad.
On Bhutan's eagerness to host the 16th summit, official sources here said countries host the summit in alphabetic order.
Before giving the final nod to Bhutan, the Saarc Secretariat must consult with other member countries, including Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and the Maldives as it is yet to decline to host the gathering, said a source.
There is no way Bhutan can host the summit at this stage because it will have to wait till Nepal, Afghanistan and Bangladesh host the summit.