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Gains seen in ASEAN plan

Gains seen in ASEAN plan

Cambodia is set to benefit from a plan to "bridge the development gap"

between ASEAN's wealthier members and its four poorest countries under a plan launched

in Brunei July 30.

The 'Initiative for ASEAN Integration Work Plan' is a six-year program to assist

Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Myan-mar in developing infrastructure, information and

communications technology, human resources and regional economic development.

The plan obliges Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand

to help Cambodia and the three other nations in training, supply of equipment, financing

and providing consultants.

The two-day meeting reiterated the call for the early accession to the World Trade

Organization of Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. The ten member body is trying to retain

its status as a significant regional player in the wake of China's economic ascendancy,

a point touched on by Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong in his remarks at the

meeting's closing session.

"The most important issue today is for ASEAN to sustain its relevance and dynamism,

its outward looking approach, and its solidarity and unity, especially when it comes

to strengthening ASEAN's economic cooperation and competitiveness," he said.

In January the six original members signed the ASEAN Free Trade Area agreement (AFTA),

whose aim is to integrate the region's economies through trade liberalization.

A joint communiqué released July 30 predicted ASEAN economies would grow at

3.5-4 percent this year.

Cambodia became the fourth nation to sign onto ASEAN's anti-terror pact alongside

Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. The Agreement on Information Exchange and

Establishment of Communication Procedures is expected to be signed shortly by Brunei

and Thailand.

Under the agreement Cambodia will be obliged to establish standard operating procedures

on search and rescue, set up hot lines, share airline passenger lists, strengthen

border controls, and conduct joint training exercises to combat terrorism and other

transnational crimes.

"We are also the victim of terrorist activities," said Chap Sotharith,

director of the ASEAN department at the Council Of Ministers. Sotharith said that

while Cambodia could assist with investigating money laundering activities, the Kingdom

did not have "much capacity" to investigate groups such as al-Qaeda.

Under a separate agreement between ASEAN and the US, each ASEAN country must establish

a "financial intelligence unit", freeze the assets of terrorists and make

public their names and details.

ASEAN is made up of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines,

Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Cambodia assumed the chairmanship of the ASEAN Standing Committee on August 1,

and will host the next meeting of the body in Phnom Penh in November.

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