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'Mekong project aimed at economic d

?Mekong project aimed at economic development?

By Amit Baruah
The Hindu (New Delhi)
November 10, 2000

VIENTIANE (LAOS), NOV. 9. The Laotian Deputy Prime Minister and foreign
Minister, Mr. Somsavat Lengasavad, today made it clear that the
Ganga-Mekong cooperation project, which will be inaugurated tomorrow,
was not intended to establish a military grouping against anybody.

Addressing a joint press conference with the visiting External Affairs
Minister, Mr. Jaswant Singh, Mr. Lengsavad said the ?Ganga-Mekong?
process was primarily intended to assist the countries in the region to
promote economic development.

The Lao Minister was responding to a question whether the ?Ganga-Mekong
six? of India, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos were
forming a group to serve as a counter-poise to China in the area. His
answer came days before the visit of the Chinese President, Mr. Jiang
Zemin, to Laos.

The Foreign Ministers from India, Laos and Vietmen and the Tourism
Ministers from Myanmar, Thailand the Cambodia are expected to issue the
?Vientiane Declaration? when they inaurgurate the project.

(A day before the formal inauguration of the project, which will
initially focus on the areas of tourism, culture and education, a crude
bomb exploded at the Vientiane air-port, in which four persons were
reportedly injured. No group has claimed responsibility for the blast
which comes when Ministers form all five Mekong countries and India were
present in Vientiane.)

Trade, economic pacts

At the third India-Laos Joint Commission meeting, which was inaugurated
by Mr. Singh and Mr. Lengsavad, two agreements on trade the economic
cooperation as well as promotion and protection of bilateral investment
were signed.

The External Affairs Minister told press-persons that Laos had
reiterated its support for India?s entry into the United Nations
Security Council during the bilateral talks.

Mr. Singh said medicines worth Rs. 3.5 millions would be supplied to
Laos are relief following the recent floods in the country.
Briefing visiting presspersons, the Indian Ambassador to Laos, Ms.
Lavanya Prasad, stated the two countries had been concentrating on
agriculture and human resources development. Laos was interested in
greater cooperation in the teaching of English, information technology
and remote sensing.

Though the volume of trade between the two was less than half-a-million
dollars annually, Laos had purchased a large number of water pumps from
an Indian company to boost rice production in the country, which now
stood at 2.1 million tonnes, she said. This was enough to meet the
requirements of 4.8 million Laos.

In 1998-99 alone, the Kirloskar company sold water pumps worth $ 18.6
million to Laos ? till date the Indian firm has bagged $ 39 million in
water pump orders from this Landlocked South-East Asian country.

It was also announced today that India would gift 25 jeeps and 10 trucks
to the Lao armed forced and the 25 positions for Laos in the India
Technical and Education (ITEC) programme would now be increased to 35.

In order to boost economic cooperation between the two countries, it was
decided that Laos would survey and identify areas in which Indian
business would be interested.

Today?s meeting of the India-Vietnamese Joint Commission was the third
since the mechanism was set up in 1996.

Mr. Jaswant Singh is only the second Indian External Affairs Minister to
visit Vietnam ? the first was Mr. Pranab Mukherjee in 1996.