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Saturday, March 29, 2008

China reinforces commitment to boost Mekong co-op

China reaffirmed its commitment on Friday to continue to boost the economic cooperation in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), saying cooperation will benefit all nations in the region.

"China will further its cooperation with the other GMS members in fields such as transportation, energy, telecommunication, agriculture, environment, human resource development and tourism", said a country report issued by China prior to the third GMS summit.
China along with fellow member states Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar will attend the conference in Vientiane, Laos, on March 30 and 31.

"The other GMS countries are all friendly neighbors of China, and they and China have maintained a long tradition of friendship," said the report, which added China had always attached importance to enhancing and developing its friendly relations with other countries in the region.

GMS cooperation is project-oriented and provides financial and technological support according to the actual needs of member countries.

According to the report, a total of $9.87 billion, a shared contribution by China and the other five countries as well as the Asian Development Bank, has been poured into 34 projects, and another 146 technological aid projects also cost a total of $166 million.

Several model projects facilitated by China under the GMS economic cooperation framework were listed in the report, which included:

-- The Laos one-third section of the western line of the south-north economic corridor (Kunming-Laos-Bangkok Road)

-- Cooperation on the Pan-Asia Railway, and research into both the China and other sections.

-- The 110 KW power line connecting Hekou, Yunnan Province, and Lao Cai in Vietnam

-- The GMS Information Highway (GMS IS) phase I project

-- The first GMS Agriculture Ministers Meeting and the GMS Agriculture Information Network Service

-- The implementation of the Action Framework for the GMS Strategy of Facilitation of Trade and Investment, and its own country action plan

"China is planning to promote cooperation on agriculture, railways, and human resource training within the subregion at the third GMS summit," said He Yafei, Chinese assistant foreign minister, at a news briefing on Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's attendance at the summit.

According to He, the triennial meeting will have as its theme "Enhancing Competitiveness Through Greater Connectivity" and Premier Wen will deliver a keynote speech on China's views and proposals to further boost the GMS cooperation and its future development.

The GMS, established in 1992, promotes economic and social development, irrigation and cooperation within the six Mekong countries.

About 320 million people live within the GMS region, and their common link, the Mekong River, winds its way for 4,200 kilometers. The great majority of these people live in rural areas where they lead subsistence or semi-subsistence agricultural lifestyles.

The area boasts abundant natural resources and huge development potential. With a long history of cultural and economic exchanges among the nations, the area has formed peculiar cultural and economic characteristics based on different folk customs and natural landscapes of the six nations sharing the river.

The first GMS Summit was held in Cambodia's Phnom Penh in 2002, and the second in southwest China's Kunming in 2005.

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Chinese premier leaves Beijing to attend Mekong summit in Laos

BEIJING, March 29 (Xinhua) -- Invited by Lao Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao left here on Saturday to pay a working visit to Laos, and attend the third Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Summit in Vientiane.

Wen's visiting group includes Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, Minister of the National Development and Reform Commission Zhang Ping, Minister of Finance Xie Xuren, Minister of Commerce Chen Deming, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Regional Government Chairman Ma Biao, Governor of the Yunnan Province Qin Guangrong, Director of the Premier's Office Qiu Xiaoxiong and Assistant Foreign Minister He Yafei.

Leaders from GMS members -- Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and China -- as well as representatives from the Asian Development Bank will meet at the summit to promote economic, social, cultural, tourism and environmental cooperation within the region.

The theme of the triennial meeting is to "Enhance Competitiveness Through Greater Connectivity" and Wen will deliver a keynote speech on China's views and proposals on boosting the GMS cooperation and its future development.

The GMS, established in 1992, promotes economic and social development, irrigation and cooperation within the six Mekong countries.

The 1st GMS Summit was held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in 2002, and the 2nd summit in Kunming, China, in 2005.

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New probe urged for senior Khmer Rouge leaders


PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Prosecutors at Cambodia's genocide tribunal called for a new investigation into claims of torture and killings committed under the 1970s Khmer Rouge regime, in a statement Saturday.

Prosecutors asked investigating judges at the UN-backed tribunal to examine allegations of crimes committed at a Khmer Rouge security centre, said the statement dated Friday.

Many Cambodians were unlawfully detained, subjected to inhumane conditions and forced labour, tortured and executed at the centre, it said.

"These factual allegations, if founded, could constitute crimes against humanity," Robert Petit, one of the prosecutors, said in the statement.

Prosecutors asked that senior regime leaders Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, Khieu Samphan, Ieng Thirith and Kaing Guek Eav -- all currently in the court's custody -- be investigated for their involvement in these crimes.

The request was accompanied by more than 30 supporting documents totalling around 1,500 pages of analytical reports, witness statements and documents from the period.

"As a result of the detailed nature and concise form in which the information was provided, we were able to assess and act on this information quickly," Cambodian prosecutor Chea Leang said in the statement, encouraging victims to come forward.

"Without participation of victims and witnesses, the court's ability to ascertain the truth regarding the extent of the crimes and those who are responsible for them will be significantly reduced," she said.

Up to two million people died of starvation and overwork, or were executed as the communist Khmer Rouge dismantled modern Cambodian society in a bid to forge an agrarian utopia during their 1975-1979 rule.

Public trials are expected to begin this year, but delays in the process have raised fears that the elderly defendants could die before going to court.
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Vietnam and India move to limit rice exports

By Keith Bradsher

HANOI: Vietnam and India on Friday tightened limits on rice exports, joining Egypt and Cambodia in trying to conserve scarce supplies for domestic consumption at the risk of triggering further increases in global rice prices, which have roughly doubled since the start of this year.

Soaring prices for rice, a staple for nearly half the world's population, are already causing hardship across the developing world, particularly for urban workers. Together with rising prices for other foods, from wheat and soybeans to pork and cooking oil, higher rice prices are also contributing to inflation in many developing countries.

Rice-importing countries have become increasingly desperate, with fast-food restaurants in the Philippines even cutting rice portions in half.

Ben Savage, a rice broker at Jackson Son & Co. in London, said that even before the latest restrictions by Vietnam and India, international rice trading had practically stopped as exporters had become reluctant to sell as they waited to see how high prices would go. "The market has pretty much ground to a halt for the past few weeks," he said.

Shipments are still being made to complete contracts signed months ago, and governments are still doing deals with each other using state-controlled companies. But with virtually no private contracts being signed, the rice market has become extremely volatile, with prices jumping ever higher as governments impose more export restrictions.

Global rice consumption has exceeded production in each of the last seven years, so rice stockpiles have been falling steadily. Rising affluence in India and China has increased demand even as a plant virus has damaged the harvest in Vietnam and poor weather has hurt output in other countries.

Vietnam, the world's second-largest rice exporter after Thailand, announced Friday that it would reduce rice exports by 22 percent in the hope of curbing the rapidly accelerating inflation rates in the country.

India on Friday set a new minimum price for rice exports of $1,000 a ton, far above the price of $700 to $750 for most grades of rice. The new price makes it unlikely that India will export any rice except the highest grades of basmati rice for which the market within India has long been small.

Cambodia said Wednesday that it was halting all private sector rice exports. Egypt has barred all rice exports starting on April 1; while Egypt bars exports each year to conserve supplies for domestic consumption, the Egyptian government has acted earlier than usual this year and after less rice than usual has been exported.

Thailand has not imposed restrictions yet, but there has been public discussion about doing so.

Vietnam's restriction "is sure to cause more concern among rice-importing countries and push prices even higher," said Duncan Macintosh, a spokesman for the International Rice Research Institute in Manila.

China to pay farmers more for rice

China said Friday it would pay farmers more for rice and wheat, trying to raise output and cool surging inflation that threatens to fuel unrest ahead of the Beijing Olympics, The Associated Press reported from Beijing.

Beijing has frozen retail prices of rice, cooking oil and other goods in an effort to rein in food costs, which jumped 23.3 percent in February from a year earlier. But analysts warn that holding down the prices paid to farmers will discourage them from raising production and easing shortages blamed for the increases.

The price increase is meant to "raise farmers' enthusiasm for growing grain and make progress in the development in grain production," the government's National Development and Reform Commission said in a statement announcing the change.
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