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Sitharaman leaves for Kyrgyzstan to attend SCO defence ministers' meet

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NEW DELHI (PTI): Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman left for Kyrgyz capital Bishkek on Sunday on a three-day visit to attend a key meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

Sitharaman will attend the SCO Defence Ministers' conclave on Monday during which she is likely to press for concerted efforts by the powerful bloc to deal with terrorism and extremism, officials said.

She is also likely to hold bilateral meetings with a number of counterparts from the SCO member countries on the sidelines of the conclave, they said.

The SCO defence ministers will explore ways to further boost defence and security cooperation among the member countries in the wake of evolving security challenges in the region.

India became a full member of the China-dominated grouping in 2017 and New Delhi's entry into it increased the bloc's heft in regional geo-politics, besides giving it a pan-Asian hue.

India is also keen on deepening its security-related cooperation with the SCO and its Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure (RATS) which specifically deals with issues relating to security and defence.

India was an observer at the SCO since 2005 and has generally participated in the ministerial-level meetings of the grouping which focus mainly on security and economic cooperation in the Eurasian region.

Along with India, Pakistan was also granted membership of SCO in 2017.

The SCO was founded at a summit in Shanghai in 2001 by the presidents of Russia, China, Kyrgyz Republic, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. India and Pakistan became its members last year.

Sitharaman will return to India on Tuesday, the officials said.

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