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Mekong region players upbeat on future

Mekong region players upbeat on future

Senior ministers from the six Mekong nations met in Phnom Penh between September

23-25 to promote regional cooperation and economic development.

The ministers from Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam finalized

plans for their leaders who will meet at the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) summit

in Phnom Penh in November.

They also evaluated the GMS economic program, which has distributed $2 billion in

infrastructure loans since 1992. The two major projects in Cambodia, with a combined

value of $70 million, are Siem Reap's airport and the highway between Phnom Penh

and Ho Chi Minh City.

The program drew enthusiastic words from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), which

has loaned more than $770 million for GMS projects.

Barend Frielink, the ADB's senior program officer, said a new development plan for

the next ten years meant "the coming decade is the decade of the Mekong".

The plan was drawn up in Rangoon last year. Frielink said he was encouraged by signs

of growing trust between the six countries, many of whom in the past have had hostile

relations.

The development of economic corridors linking the region's nations is seen as key.

As part of that, Thai military engineers have been working in Cambodia to rehabilitate

the road from Koh Kong to Sre Ambel for a Southern Coastal corridor.

While the presence of Thai soldiers there has some Cambodians worried, the GMS regards

the road as an example of new-found trust. Construction is scheduled to finish at

the end of 2002, although it could take longer, said Thailand's deputy prime minister

Pitak Intrawityanunt, as his country was considering upgrading it to asphalt.

Intrawityanunt also cited Thai aid to Cambodia as proof that cooperation between

GMS countries had improved. Thailand will provide technical cooperation for the Thai-Cambodia

Economic Cooperation Plan, and $800,000 scheme that will include feasibility studies

for tourism, agriculture and industrial projects.

Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng told delegates that cooperation within the GMS would

contribute to political stability and link the region with global economic developments.

"The Royal Government of Cambodia is strongly committed to a free trade policy,

and the policy of economic integration into the regional and world economy,"

he said.

China's vice-minister of finance echoed Sar Kheng's sentiments that the GMS program

was critically important for the development of all six countries.

In a sign of further progress, China told the meeting it would sign an agreement

on standardizing border procedures when the leaders of the GMS countries gather in

Phnom Penh on November 3 for the ASEAN summit. That will leave Myanmar as the only

nation which has not signed.

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