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India relaxes visa regime for Pak nationals

ISLAMABAD, Dec 27: India on Monday announced unilateral relaxation of the visa regime for Pakistan nationals above 65 years and below 12 years. It also offered student visas to Pakistanis on case-by-case basis for studying in reputed Indian educational institutions. The decisions were announced by Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran at a media conference after talks on the first of the two-day dialogue concluding tomorrow. He also announced the extension of free medical facilities for Pakistani children suffering from cardiac ailments in Indian medical institutions.

Earlier, India had given free medical treatment to 40 Pakistani children. Now, 20 more children will be accorded such a facility. Asked about Pakistan's response to this, he said this was a unilateral decision to be implemented by India and New Delhi would appreciate any reciprocal gesture by Pakistan. The visa relaxation proposals would be notified as soon as arrangements at the Wagah border were made, he said.

The two Foreign Secretaries are holding the second round of the Composite Dialogue process to resolve differences over Jammu and Kashmir and seven other outstanding issues. Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran and his Pakistani counterpart Riaz Khokhar along with their official delegations met here to hold two-day talks on issues listed in the Composite Dialogue process and others like resolution of differences over travel documents to run the bus service between Srinagar and Muzafarabad.

Under the Composite Dialogue structure, the Foreign Secretaries have been assigned to discuss Jammu and Kashmir, Peace and Security and Confidence Building Measures. Besides holding talks on these issues, they are also expected to finalise a calendar of events for official level talks on issues like Siachen, Sir Creek, Wullar Barrage, Terrorism and Drug Trafficking, Economic and Commercial Cooperation and promotion of Friendly exchanges in various fields.

The two countries held the first round of the Composite Dialogue process early this year with little success following which they agreed to hold the second round.

India, Malaysia sign agreements to boost ties

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Dec 20: India and Malaysia on Monday signed three agreements and 12 business-to-business agreements to give a new fillip to the economic and political ties between the two countries. The visiting Malaysia Prime Minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who arrived here on Sunday on a five-day official visit, hoped that his visit would help "widen" the area of bilateral ties. "We want to deepen and expand our relations with India covering all areas," he told newsmen after being presented ceremonial reception at the Rashtrati Bhawan.

Mr Badawi said he hoped his visit would help "widen" ties between the two nations and make them "more comprehensive". Mr Badawi, on his first visit to India after assuming office in October last year, held wide-ranging talks with the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, on a host of important bilateral, regional and international issues of mutual concern. Threats posed by terrorism, UN reforms and Iraq situation were among the issues figured during the parleys.

After one to one meeting with Dr Singh, the two sides held delegation-level talks in which senior Ministers including Defence Minister, Commerce and Industry Minister and Civil Aviation Minister were present. Three Agreements were signed in presence of the two Prime Ministers. Prime Minister hosted a dinner in honour of the visiting dignitary.

As many as 12 business to business agreements, encompassing wide range of areas such as cooperation in the field of Information Technology, Biotechnology, Agriculture, Satellite systems, Railways and Television networks were signed in presence of Prime Minister Badawi during business luncheon meeting with Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).

During the day, the visiting leader called on the President, Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, the Vice President, Mr Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, and held meetings with the External Affairs Minister, Mr K Natwar Singh, the Minister of Home Affairs, Mr Shivraj Patil, and the Minister of Finance, Mr P. Chidambaram.

The Malaysian Prime Minsiter is accompanied by a high-level degelation, including Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar, Works Minister S Samy Vellu, Energy, Water and Communication Minister Lim Keng Yaik and Miniser of Higher Education Shafie Mohd Salleh.

The first agreement signed in the presence of the two Prime Ministers was between Antrix Corporation Limited ("Antrix"), the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation ("ISRO"), and MEASAT Global Bhd. In this the two agreed to form a Joint Venture Company ("JV Co") to pool their satellite capacities, in a major move to develop a satellite neighbourhood for millions of broadcasting and telecommunications customers across the wider Asia Pacific region.

The Joint Venture, which will be equally owned by the two companies, represents a significant breakthrough and major step in the ongoing cooperation between the Indian and Malaysian satellite sectors. The JV Co will leverage capacity from both the high-powered Indian INSAT and Malaysian MEASAT satellite fleets to provide commercial satellite service across the wider Asia-Pacific region.

The second agreement was a Letter of Intent by MEASAT Satellite Systems Sdn Bhd. of Malaysia to Antrix Corporation on procurement of MEASAT-4 Satellite. With in the overall framework of cooperation of Joint Venture, Antrix has proposed building and launching MEASAT-4 satellite. The technical and financial aspects have been mostly agreed upon and discussions are continuing over certain regulatory processes. Signed by Tun Hanif Bin Tun Omar, Director, MEASAT Satellite Systems from the Malaysian side and Mr K.R. Sridharmurthy, Executive Director, Antrix Corporation from the Indian side.

The third agreement was a Concession Agreement for the Development, Construction, Operation and Maintenance of the Hyderabad International Airport between Ministry of Civil Aviation, Government of India and Hyderabad International Airport Limited. The consortium of GMR Infrastructure Limited (GIL) and Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MABH) has been selected by Government of Andhra Pradesh and Government of India following a competitive bidding to develop Greenfield international airport through Public Private Partnership (PPP) at Shamshabad near Hyderabad at about 20 kilometers from the existing airport at Begumpet.

The consortium as majority partner, will be responsible for the design, finance, construction, operation, maintenance and management of Hyderabad International Airport Project, through a special purpose company viz. Hyderabad International Airport Limited (HIAL), in which Government of Andhra Pradesh and AAI together hold 26 per cent. The approximate cost of the project is Rs. 1,385 crores.

Malaysian PM visit to strengthen economic ties

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Dec 19: The Malaysian Prime Minister, Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, arrived here on Sunday on a five-day state visit that is expected to give a big boost to bilateral economic cooperation in diversified areas. The visiting dignitary will hold wide-ranging discussions with the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, on Monday on a host of important bilateral, regional and international issues of mutual concern. Threats posed by terrorism, UN reforms and the situation in Iraq are among issues that are expected to figure during the parleys. The two countries will sign agreements for enhancing bilateral cooperation.

The Malaysian leader will be accorded a ceremonial welcome at the forecourt of the Rashtrapati Bhavan on Monday morning. Later, the External Affairs Minister, Mr K Natwar Singh, and the Finance Minister, Mr P Chidambaram, will call on him. He will also address a luncheon meeting, organised by CII and FICCI. Mr Badawi will call on the President, Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, and the Vice-President, Mr Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, in the afternoon and hold official talks with the Prime Minister, followed by signing of agreements between the two countries.

On Tuesday, the Malaysian leader will visit the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) here. The Jamia Millia Islamia University will confer him with an honorary degree on later in the day. On this occasion, he is expected to deliver an address on the concept of Islam Hadhari or Civilizational Islam. The Petroleum Minister, Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar, will call on the visiting dignitary in the evening. The Malaysian premier would also have meetings with the UPA Chairperson and Congress President, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, and the Leader of the Opposition, Mr L K Advani.

The Minister of State, Mr E Ahamed, and Secretary in the External Affairs Ministry, Mr Rajiv Sikri, warmly received him at Delhi airport. This is Mr Badawi's first visit to India after he assumed office in October last year. The ruling coalition Barisan National party registered a resounding victory in the general elections in March this year.

He is accompanied by Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar, Works Minister S Samy Vellu, Energy, Water and Communication Minister Lim Keng Yaik, Minister of Higher Education Shafie Mohd. Salleh, Deputy Minister of Home Tan Chai Ho, Deputy Minister of Agriculture Mohd. Sharif Haji Om, senior officials and a large business delegation. He is also accompanied by his wife, Datin Seri Endon Mahmood. Malaysia currently holds the Chairmanship of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC).

India and Malaysia share historical and cultural links. Today, Malaysia is India's largest trading partner among ASEAN countries, with bilateral trade recording 3.2 billion dollars and projected to cross four billion dollars this year. Malaysian companies play an active role in infrastructure development in India including in the construction of highways and ports. Similarly, Indian companies such as IRCON, HMT, EIL, BHEL and IOC have been engaged in the Malaysian industrial sector since the early 1970s.

Malaysia is home to the largest number of Persons of Indian Origin numbering about two million, who are integrated into the political, economic and social life of Malaysia.

Apart from New Delhi, Prime Minister Badawi will visit Agra and Bangalore where he will visit Infosys, Biocon and Hindustan Aeronauticals Limited.
In Bangalore, Mr Badawi will address a business meeting orgnised by the Confederation of Indian Industry soon after his arrival on Wednesday and later participate at a banquet hosted in his honour by Governor T N Chaturvedi at Raj Bhavan. On December 23, he would visit the Campuses of Biocon and Infosys in the morning and later visit the Indian institute of Science. He would leave for Turkey the same night.

Mr Badawi, who is accompanied by a large business delegation, hopes to bag a large chunk of construction contracts in Asia's fourth-largest economy and also expects to push New Delhi to lower palm oil duties. India is one of the largest importers of Malaysian palm oil. India, the world's biggest edible oils importer, is likely to increase purchases as it needs more supply to cover increased consumption and a delay in arrivals of domestic oil in the market, traders said.

It imports 50 per cent of its annual edible oil requirement of nearly 9 million tonne, the bulk of which is palm oil from Malaysia and Indonesia.
New Delhi was expected to urge Malaysia to use its influence and help create an Asian free trade market with ASEAN countries by 2015, a trade official said.

Malaysia assumes the chairmanship of Association of South East Asia Nations (ASEAN) in 2005.

Malaysian firms have bagged contracts worth more than $2 billion for road construction in India, including a role in an ambitious highway programme connecting the four corners of the vast South Asian country. In 1995, India passed a law to allow private participation in highway building. This led to Rs 540 billion ($12.3 billion) project to widen more than 13,000 km (8,000 miles) of highways from two to four lanes.

India now plans to encourage private investment in the shipping and port sectors and help scrap old procedures that hinder growth in maritime-related areas as part of a 14-year-old economic reform programme. So far, 17 port projects costing Rs 40.5 billion have already been approved, while 19 more involving Rs 34.8 billion are under consideration or open for bids.

Malaysian PM arrives on Sunday on 5-day visit to India

NEW DELHI, Dec 18: Malaysian Prime Minister Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, whose country holds the Chairmanship of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), arrives here on Sunday on a five-day state visit to India to strengthen bilateral relations.

Prime Minister Badawi will bring with him senior Ministers from the Malaysian Cabinet, including Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar; Minister of Works Dato Seri S Samy Vellu; Minister of Energy, Water & Communication Dato Seri Dr. Lim Keng Yaik; Minister of Higher Education Dato Dr. Hj. Shafie Mohd Salleh; Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Datuk Tan Chai Ho; and Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Dato Seri Hj. Mohd Shariff Haji Om; and senior officials and a large business delegation, according to a spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs. He will also be accompanied by his wife, Datin Seri Endon Mahmood.

This will be Badawi's first visit to India after he assumed office in October 2003, which was followed by a resounding victory of the ruling coalition, Barisan National, in the general elections in March 2004.

During the visit, Badawi will call on President A P J Abdul Kalam and Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. He will have discussions with Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, who will host a banquet in honour of the visiting dignitary. Senior Ministers of the Cabinet, including External Affairs, Home, Finance and Petroleum and Natural Gas, will call on the Malaysian leader.

Prime Minister Badawi, along with the accompanying business delegation, will have an opportunity to interact with leaders of the Indian industry at a function jointly hosted by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry(FICCI) and Confederation of Indian Industry(CII) here. He will be conferred with an Honorary Doctorate by the Jamia Millia Islamia. On the occasion, Prime Minister Badawi is expected to deliver an address on the concept of Islam Hadhari or Civilisational Islam. Apart from New Delhi, he will visit Agra and Bangalore where he will visit Infosys, Biocon and Hindustan Aeronauticals Limited.

India and Malaysia share historical and cultural links. Today, Malaysia is India's largest trading partner among ASEAN countries, with bilateral trade recording US$3.2 billion and projected to cross US$4 billion this year. Malaysian companies play an active role in infrastructure development in India including in the construction of highways and ports. Similarly, Indian companies such as IRCON, HMT, EIL, BHEL and IOC have been engaged in the Malaysian industrial sector since the early 1970s.

Malaysia is home to the largest number of Persons of Indian Origin numbering about 2 million, who are integrated into the political, economic and social life of Malaysia. Malaysia will assume Chairmanship of ASEAN next year.

Egypt, Israel sign trade accord 25 years after peace treaty

CAIRO, Dec 14: Egypt and Israel on Tuesday signed their first strategic partnership accord in trade and industry since their historic 1979 peace treaty. The deal signed with the United States will lead to the establishment of joint industrial zones in Egypt from where goods will be exported to the United States duty free.

Egyptian Industry and Foreign Trade Minister Mohammed Rashid, and Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, signed the accord in the presence of Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, and US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, an agency report said.

No Indian to go to Iraq for polls

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Dec 8: The External Affairs Minister, Mr Natwar Singh, on Wednesday said that no Indian was being sent to Iraq for conducting elections there. However, he said if Iraq wanted it could send its people to India for training for the purpose. Replying to clarifications sought by members in the Lok Sabha after his reply to a debate on foreign policy, the Minister ruled out giving any guarantee for the safety of the Indians working in the US embassy in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.

Mr Singh said it was impossible to give guarantee to officials working in the US embassy in Jeddah. He said of the two Indians who died in the terrorist attack on Indians working in the US embassy in Saudi Arabia, one was an official working in the embassy and the other was a contractor. He said the Government had made a clear-cut enunciation of its policy of not sending troops to Iraq that has been endorsed by Parliament.

"At the same time, we have maintained our engagement with the friendly people of Iraq. This has taken the shape of humanitarian and reconstruction aid and more recently support for the forthcoming election process in the country," he said. Mr Singh said the restoration of political stability in Iraq is of direct concern to India, which depends upon this region for a substantial part of our energy supplies and also because 3.5 million of our citizens live and work in this region.

For India, he said relations with the US are special because we are both vibrant democracies. "Our relations are being expanded across the board. Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh met President Bush in New York in September 2004, which resulted in a strong re-affirmation of the strategic partnership between our two countries."

Mr Singh stated that the Secretary of Defence, Mr Rumsfeld arrives here on Wednesday. "Our perspectives on specific issues may be different and that may lead to differences in policies. However, we share a great and enduring affinity as peoples wedded to democratic values and today there is such a broad range of interaction between the two countries across the board that changes in the U.S. Administration have not resulted in any uncertainty or doubt."

The Minister said India-US relations are beginning to acquire a degree of stability and predictability. "We are ready to work together on shared concerns." He stated "Our two million diaspora is a strong factor in this relationship. On missile defence, we have given no commitment about our participation. At this stage, we are being given technical briefings and presentation on missile defence by the U.S."

He said the U.S. Administration has approached the U.S. Congress for the supply of a weapons package to Pakistan, including surveillance aircraft and anti-tank missiles. The Minister said "the UPA Government has expressed our strong concern over this move at very high levels of the U.S. Government. We have pointed out that supply of arms to Pakistan at a time when India-Pakistan dialogue is at a sensitive stage, would have a negative impact."

He said "we have also conveyed that U.S. arms supply to Pakistan would also have a negative impact on the goodwill the U.S. enjoys in India, particularly as a sister democracy. On the possible supply of F-16 aircraft to Pakistan the U.S. Government has conveyed that no decision has been taken and is not imminent. We have cautioned the U.S. against such a decision. I would like to assure members that in case of U.S. arms supply to Pakistan, the UPA Government will not hesitate to take steps to ensure that our defence preparedness is not compromised in any way."

Terming Indo-Pak relations as "accident-prone", the Minister said this has to be dealt with great restraint, wisdom and patience and hoped its future does not lie in the past now. He said having been India's Ambassador to Pakistan more than a quarter century ago, he naturally has great interest in promoting good neighbourly and cordial relations with the northern neighbour.

"Indo-Pak relations are accident-prone. We have, therefore, to deal with this matter with great restraint, with great wisdom and patience," he said stressing "with Pakistan, we have put behind a reactive policy, which frequently oscillated between euphoria and despair. Emphasising that the two countries were engaged in a sustained and comprehensive dialogue process, he said "I hope that the future of Indo-Pak relations does not lie in the past now".

India, he said, would not be deflected by "transient developments and often contradictory pronouncements from the other side of the border".
New Delhi's confidence in taking this process forward was reflected in the number of wide-ranging Confidence Building Measures that has been proposed by it. "We have offered Pakistan 72 CBMs for them to study".

India, Israel set up Joint Study Group to boost trade ties

NEW DELHI, Dec 8: India on Wednesday announced the formation of a Joint Study Group (JSG) with Israel to further bilateral trade ties between both the nations, which Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, hailed as a breakthrough in Indo-Israeli relations.

"India and Israel bilateral trade should cross over two billion dollars in the current fiscal as our country has emerged as Israel's second largest trading partner in Asia. The volume of bilateral trade has set a new record every year," Commerce Minister Kamal Nath, said and set a target of five billion dollars in three years and argued that it was not impossible to achieve.

The Minister said the JSG would furnish all the dry details on furthering Indo-Israeli business prospects in the next few months following which Indo-Israeli Cooperation Agreement would be signed.

Addressing Indian and Israeli businessmen at FICCI here, Olmert said "the JSG is a breakthrough in our relations. As a result we would have a comprehensive study on bilateral business relations," he said and assured of a "genuine, friendly and open-hearted partnership with India."
The Israeli Deputy Premier announced that both nations would sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) later in the day on Research and Development.

Olmert said Israel is looking for partnership with India in Research and Development, biotechnology, hi-tech products, IT, telecom and electronics and pointed out that Israeli entrepreneurs desired to establish a genuine and long-standing partnership with their Indian counterparts.

India, Russia should work together on new technologies: Putin

BANGALORE, Dec 5: Russian President Vladimir Putin, asserted the need for New Delhi and Moscow working together on innovative technologies as he visited software major Infosys here on Sunday. During an hour long-visit, accompanied by a business delegation and media personnel from Russia, Putin met the senior management of the company and addressed the employees.

Putin was taken around the campus at Electronics City on the outskirts of the city and provided an overview on the IT industry and the company by Infosys Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Nandan M Nilekani. In his address to Infosys employees, Putin emphasised the need for India and Russia to work together on innovative technologies, a statement issued by the company said.

Welcoming Putin, Infosys Chairman and Chief Mentor N R Narayana Murthy, said his visit was an affirmation of the special relationship between the two countries.
Observing that the two countries had already successfully leveraged each other's strengths across various industry sectors, he said there were avenues that remained unexplored. "As our bilateral relations expand in scope and depth, surely, Information Technology will be one of the areas in which both countries can collaborate for talent and knowledge," he said.

The Russian President's visit to India's infotech hub has sent a strong signal of Moscow's willingness to seriously engage India in improving the bilateral economic relations in the sector, India's Ambassador to Russia Kanwal Sibal, said today. "Putin, through his visit, has sent a powerful signal of Russia's willingness to seriously engage India in developing our economical relations in the frontier sector," Sibal told newsmen, soon after Putin wound up his three-day visit to India. Putin left here for Ankara, the capital of Turkey, on a two-day official visit, the first by a Russian President.

Describing Putin's visit as "successful from all points of issue," Sibal said both sides believe that the objective of the Russian leader's India trip has been achieved.

"I think Russian President's visit here to Infosys in Bangalore is very important in terms of what we can mutually explore in the IT sector," Sibal said, adding that about 23 CEOs of Russian IT firms accompanied Putin here.

"Russians are good at R&D and fast algorithms in high-end IT, we are good at services and project management. It is a mutual strength we can build and cooperate in future," he said. Sibal cited the MoUs signed in the energy, banking and other sectors in New Delhi as an opportunity for both nations to further boost their bilateral economic relations

Putin backs veto power for India in UNSC

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Dec 4: The Russian President, Mr Vladimir Putin, has clarified that India should have veto powers as a permanent member in an expanded UN Security Council, according to a spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs. "In his meeting today with the Vice President, Mr Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, and the Leader of the Opposition, Mr LK Advani, President Putin categorically rejected the interpretation given by some newspaper reports on his remarks on Friday about veto powers in an expanded Security Council," said the spokesman.

He said Mr Putin had emphasised the need of retaining the instrument of veto as a means of ensuring the effectiveness of the UN Security Council.
In extending full support to India's candidature, the Russian President felt that India, as a new member, should have the full rights of permanent membership, including the right of veto, he said.

Mr Putin said if India achieves a permanent seat in the Security Council it could not be a permanent member of second rank, he said. At a joint press conference with the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, Mr Putin had on Friday said "speaking of the role of the veto and other existing tools in the UN, we should say that we believe that it would be absolutely unacceptable to erode such tools of the UN because otherwise the U N organisation will lose its weight, lose its role, changing into some discussion club - some new edition of the League of Nations," according to the English version of Putin's remarks given by the Russian translator.

India, Russia working group for IT pact: India and Russia have agreed to set up a working group to draw up an inter-governmental agreement on information technology, according Mr Leonid D. Reiman, Russia's IT Minister. Speaking to newsmen in Bangalore, Mr Reiman said that he had a meeting on Friday with his Indian counterpart Mr Dayanidhi Maran in which it was agreed to establish the working group of specialists who would prepare a draft agreement.

Mr Maran would visit Russia on an invitation in the first half of next year, added Mr Reiman after a round-table of 20 Russian companies whose top executives interacted with leading Indian firms for possible areas of cooperation. Russia was trying to make the round-table a regular event and the inter-governmental agreement was expected to be signed in the next edition, he said.

The visiting Minister found India's software technology parks' model very good and said Russia would try to create something similar at home to accelerate IT growth. Russia would seek expertise of Infosys Technologies Limited in this context, he said in a response. Mr Reiman emphasised that Indian and Russian companies joining forces and offering quality products for the 'third countries' would be beneficial for both parties.

While India was a leader in software, outsourcing and services and an established player in sales and marketing, Russia's strength lay in research and development. There was synergy to join hands by leveraging each other's skills.

Meanwhile, India plans to work jointly with Russia to tackle cyber crime. India's Cyber Emergency Response Team (CERT) plans to jointly work with Russia to combat cyber crime, including virus and hacker attacks in their computer networks, according to Mr Madhavan Nambiar, IT Joint Secretary.

"We are trying to see how best our CERT can work with Russian authorities on Information Security and prevent attacks by virus, worms and hackers," he said in Bangalore.

Delivering his address at the Indo-Russian Information and Communication Technologies Cooperation Conference in Bangalore, Mr Nambiar said the cyber security plan was in the early stages, but CERT had already signed a protocol on e-security with Russia. He said the three areas of cooperation in the IT domain were software parks, Information Security and Software services. The Software Technology Parks of India (STPI) was in the process of setting up a software park in Moscow, he said.

India, Russia agree to revitalise traditional ties

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Dec 3: India and Russia have given a new momentum to their longstanding relationship by agreeing to further strengthen the energy and military ties. India is looking to Russia's vast resources to meet its growing demand for energy. Speaking at a joint press conference after holding talks with the visiting Russian President, Mr Vladimir Putiin, the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, said "we have laid down several new milestones for expanding, widening and deepening our cooperation with Russia."

India and Russia also signed a joint declaration emphasising strategic partnership between the two countries and taking note of the transformation in the global environment in the recent past. The two countries also signed accords on outer-space, long-term cooperation in the field of joint development and use of Russian Global Navigational Satellite System (GLONASS) for peaceful purposes, visa-free travel for holders of diplomatic and official passports and cooperation between the cities of Mumbai and St Petersburg.

The agreement on outer-space and GLONASS was signed by ISRO Chairman G Madhavan Nair and Director of Russian Federal Space Agency A Perminov.
India's Foreign Secretary Shyam Sharan inked the deal on visa-free travel with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Alexeev. Mumbai Municipal Corporation Mayor Mahadev Deole signed the agreement for cooperation with Valentina Matvienko, Governor of President Vladimir Putin's hometown St Petersburg.

The declaration said the governments would encourage investment by energy firms in each other's countries. It said energy constitutes an important part of the bilateral relationship. Considering the expanding energy requirements of India, both sides stressed the need for employing resources that were environment-friendly and available in sufficient quantities.

"Nuclear power plants offer a pollution-free and substantial source of energy to provide for the sustainable development. Both sides are determined to continue their cooperation in the field of nuclear energy, incorporating innovative technologies to ensure energy security, with due regard to their commitments to non-proliferation norms."

It said the two sides also recognise the considerable scope for cooperation in the hydro-electric and thermal power sectors. Russia is a major exporter of oil and gas and India is emerging as a large consumer. The two sides affirm their desire to cooperate in development of new oil and gas fields and the means of their transportation in Russia, India and other countries.

"Both sides agree to encourage and assist investments in the energy sector by Indian companies in Russia and those by Russian companies in this sector in India. The Sides view cooperation in energy as an area of priority attention in bilateral cooperation."

Mr Putin backed a bigger role for India at the UN Security Council. Responding to a question on New Delhi's long standing desire for a permanent seat on the UN body, Mr Putin said "India is our candidate number one in terms of enlarging the geographical representation of the Security Council." However, he said he was not in favour of veto rights to new members.

".....But speaking about the role of veto and other tools present in the UN, we should say that we believe it would be absolutely unacceptable to erode such tools of the UN. Because, otherwise, the UN organisation will lose its weight and lose its role changing into some discussion club, some new addition of the League of Nations," he said.

India, in turn, has backed Russia's entry into the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Russia needs bilateral agreements with WTO members before it can join the global trade policy group.
Dr Singh said problems faced by the Indian military in sourcing spares from Russian arms manufacturers had been resolved. New Delhi and Moscow share a strong friendship dating back to India's support of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. About 70 per cent of India's military equipment is of Russian origin. India has, however, in recent years has moved away from its near complete dependence on Moscow for weapons and now buys from Israel, South Africa and the United States.

In an expression of unhappiness over Washington's unilateral approach in Iraq, the two leaders stressed the need for multilateral efforts to resolve disputes. "The two sides expressed their concern over the continuing violence in Iraq and underlined the necessity for internal dialogue aimed at achieving a national consensus on a new constitution and on restoring stability and security," Mr Putin and Dr Singh said in the joint statement.

The Russian President, who arrived here this morning to a warm welcome, would travels to India's technology capital of Bangalore on Saturday before returning to Moscow. Mr Putin, who is accompanied by a high-level delegation, was warmly received at Delhi airport by Communication and Information Technology Minister Dayanidhi Maran and Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran.

The two countries have also agreed to reach an agreement within four months on intellectual property rights in respect of all future supply of defence equipment.
"We have agreed that this matter (IPR) should be resolved in the next four months beginning January. The IPR rights will be respected with regard to all future supplies of equipment," said Dr Manmohan Singh.

As regards the existing agreements they will run through their course, he said. Agreeing with the Prime Minister, Mr Putin said there was only one technical issue that remained to be sorted out and he was confident that it would be done in the next three-four months.

The Prime Minister announced that India would honour the assurance given by former Prime Minister A B Vajpayee that Russia would be treated as market economy.
In his opening remarks, Dr Singh said their discussions covered joint cooperative ventures in many areas and the problem of supplies of defence spares has been resolved. He noted that the relationship between the two countries went beyond the buyer-seller cooperation into areas of research and development and joint production.

Noting that the economic cooperation between the two countries was much below expectations, he said the joint committee which looks into the matter has gone into it with a sense of urgency. "I have conveyed to President Putin that we will stand by what assurance (former) Prime Minister Vajpayee had given in this regard. Russia will be treated as market economy in the matter of anti-dumping rules for anti-dumping investigations," the Prime Minister said.

Dr Singh said they discussed energy cooperation and also peaceful cooperation in nuclear energy. "Together we are fully satisfied with the discussions. We are appreciative of Russia's sustained support to India's case for permanent membership of the UN Security Council.

He said "we also had a useful survey of the situation in our neighbourhood, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq. In all these matters there were close similarity of views."

Mr Putin said Indo-Russian strategic partnership was not influenced by any circumstances and they full understood on all matters discussed today. The Russian President said the decisions taken today would further strengthen bilateral ties.

India, Russia plan fresh investment for developing BrahMos missile

NEW DELHI, Dec 2: The Defence Ministers of India and Russia on Thursday said they had ironed out the irritants in their military ties. Both sides conceded each other's demands and resolved to evolve their military partnership from that of a buyer-seller to active research and development and joint export of armaments to third countries.

Speaking at a joint press conference, Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee announced that India had decided to concede Russia's two-year-old request for a defence secrecy agreement that would ensure that the country receiving high-end defence technology would not sell or transfer it to another country. "The sooner the better,'' interjected the Russian Defence Minister, Sergei Ivanov, when Mr Mukherjee was asked about the timeframe within which the pact would be finalised. Mr Mukherjee said the first meeting on the draft of the defence secrecy agreement would be held in January and work would be completed in another four to five months.

Russia also partly conceded India's request for bank guarantees against items ordered from the Russian military industrial complex. The Russian Ministry of Finance will give a "comfort letter'' to New Delhi in place of bank guarantees. India had been insisting on such an arrangement because Russian military factories had sometimes failed to meet the production schedule or after sales agreement. India would have encashed the bank guarantees as a sort of penalty in case Russia reneged on the delivery schedule. "The letter of comfort is adequate,'' said Mr Mukherjee.

India also addressed Russia's grouse of bilateral military exercises not being held despite the latter enjoying close military ties with India for several decades. It was decided on Thursday that Special Forces of both sides would hold a joint exercise next year. While India has held several army-level exercises with the United States, it had tended to ignore Russia despite the commonality of equipment. The ice was broken for the first time when India and Russia held naval exercises off the eastern coast this year.

The two sides also signed three protocols for fresh investments (estimated at Rs 250 crores) for the development of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile. The Russian Government plans to issue an executive order to scale up Russian investment in the joint venture. India too has agreed to make fresh investments in the venture for making supersonic missiles with an official range of just under 300 km. The influx of funds would help produce nearly 400 missiles that will be fitted on military platforms of both countries.

The two countries also decided to work out "mutually acceptable'' conditions on leasing of long-range (and possibly nuclear-capable) TU-22 bombers. On being asked whether the discussions covered leasing of Russian nuclear submarines, Mr. Ivanov said the two sides had talked of a package deal that would involve "appropriate projects'' for the Navy.

Discussion held on the previous two days saw officials focussing on the need for steady supply of spares. Taking note of complaints by all the three Indian armed services of tardy supplies of spares, Russia agreed to provide maintenance and overhauling facilities in India. In order to ensure economies of scale, military hardware of friendly countries could also be refurbished at these places.

Mr Mukherjee and Mr Ivanov signed the protocol of the Indo-Russian Inter-Governmental Commission while different working groups pertaining to military and technical cooperation signed two other protocols.

India, Israel review bilateral ties

TTO News Service

NEW DELHI, Nov 17: India and Israel reviewed their bilateral relations at the 8th round foreign office consultations held here on Tuesday. A joint statement issued Wednesday said the two sides had wide-ranging and constructive exchange of views in the spirit of friendship and mutual understanding.

The discussions, which included a review of bilateral, regional and multilateral issues, was held ahead of Israel's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Industry, Trade and Employment Ehud Olmert's visit to New Delhi next month at the head of a 100-strong business delegation.
External affairs ministry secretary Rajiv Sikri led the Indian delegation at the consultation while Ambassador Amos Nadai headed the Israeli delegation, the statement said.

India-China decide to set up a JSC

NEW DELHI, Nov 17: Sino-Indian cooperation in Science and Technology is poised for a great leap forward with the two countries taking an historic decision on Wednesday to set up a Joint Steering Committee (JSC) to promote collaboration in diverse areas including disaster management, IT, Pharmaceuticals including Indian System of Medicine and non-conventional energy.

According to a press release, the proposal for the JSC was mooted by the Minister for Science and Technology Kapil Sibal at the Official Level Meeting with the Chinese side led by State Councillor Ms. Chen Zhilli. This is for the first time that such a high ranking Chinese Minister dealing with Science and Technology has come to India. The JSC will be co-chaired by the Ministers for Science and Technology of the two countries and will have its first meeting in Beijing sometime next year after its constitution through bi-lateral consultations.

Arafat Buried in Chaotic Scenes in West Bank

RAMALLAH, West Bank, Nov 13: Yasser Arafat was buried on Friday in chaotic scenes of grief and gunfire at the compound where he spent his final years encircled by the Israeli army and powerless to realize his dream of a Palestinian state. It was the end of an era for Israelis and Palestinians locked for decades in a conflict of which Arafat was one of the most recognized symbols, and stirred hopes for reviving Middle East peacemaking for the first time in years.

Offering condolences to the Palestinians, President Bush said he saw a "great chance" for work toward lasting peace and creation of a Palestinian state. Bush had in the past shunned Arafat, branding him an "obstacle to peace." But fears remained of an internal power struggle that could thrust Palestinian territories into chaos and block diplomacy.

Amid scenes of frenzied mourning, soil brought from the site of Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque -- Islam's third holiest site -- was poured over Arafat's casket. A Palestinian flag and a black and white headdress, his trademark, were placed on the tomb of black and white marble. "With our blood and soul we redeem you, Abu Ammar," the crowd chanted, using the nom de guerre of their leader, who fought for decades for a state he never achieved.

Osama may sneak into India: FBI official

NEW DELHI, Nov 1: A senior official of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) quietly visited India last week to alert intelligence agencies about the possibility of Osama bin Laden sneaking into India, official sources said on Monday. The Pakistan-based official also sought Indian assistance for joint operations by Indian and US forces to nab the world's most wanted fugitive if he crossed over from northeastern Pakistan, the sources said.

The official's visit followed reported spotting of Bin Laden in northeastern Pakistan, close to the Pakistan-China-India border tri-junction, they added. The sources said the FBI official met senior officials of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), Intelligence Bureau (IB), Border Security Force (BSF) and Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP).

They said the FBI official appeared to have information about the impending release of the latest videotape by Bin Laden, carrying yet another warning against the US. A few days later, on Oct 29, an unidentified person delivered the tape to the office of Al-Jazeera television in Islamabad.

In the tape, Bin Laden warned the American people: "Your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or Al Qaeda." He was referring to the Democratic nominee for the presidential election John Kerry and President George W Bush.

Indian spy planes picked Osama near NE Pak

NEW DELHI, Nov 1: The Fox News Channel and a website with close Israeli links have claimed that the Indian Air Force sighted Osama bin Laden's convoy a few days ago near Tibet-Ladakh region close to the North-Eastern border of Pakistan. According to - a website believed to be run by people close to the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad - bin Laden was spotted between October 17 and 19 by an Indian Air Force reconnaissance plane that picked him up close to the North-Eastern corner of Pakistan bordering India and China.

Additional surveillance aircraft were called in and identified the al-Qaeda leader on the move with a 10-vehicle convoy of black Japanese minivans, the website says. Four of the vehicles turned up again on October 22 heading east towards the Chinese border. The Fox Channel too made similar claims late Sunday night.

However, sources in the Indian military have dismissed the news saying they had "no such" high-level exchanges with US agencies and there was no such evidence on bin Laden. It is well known that Indian intelligence agencies are extremely upset with US agencies that sourced all possible information from them after 9/11 while denying them any access to American information including those regarding terrorism against India.
But it is not known if there was a drastic turn-around and the present government - not so friendly like the earlier Vajpayee regime and already going slow on its US engagements - is in such an intense collaboration with US agencies.

There is also doubt about the ability of Indian agencies to so accurately nail a convoy and identify it as that of bin Laden so deep within the enemy territory. India's primary abilities to monitor a foreign land are based on a series of IRS satellites, aerial reconnaissance by aircraft and signal intelligence. While the IRS satellites have a resolution of around 5 meters, a plane like Jaguar deep penetration fighter can monitor upto 80 kilometers within enemy territory. But either cannot be so accurate in picking up a convoy and identify them as that of bin Laden. India also has signal intelligence abilities that could be used to intercept radio and phone communications.

While some officials dismiss the entire report as an effort to misuse Indian name on the eve of US presidential elections to salvage the fortunes of George Bush, there are some within the intelligence fraternity who believe that in the countdown to the polls it won't be surprising if bin Laden is produced in US custody.

The Debka report claims that bin Laden would be on his way to his winter hideout and the latest video tape was taken before he was sighted by IAF planes. The bin Laden tape though was dropped at the gates of Al Jazeera 's Pakistan Bureau in Islamabad, there is no evidence of information in the footage on the whereabouts of bin Laden.

Debka says its sources are convinced that, after he gave orders for the tape's release, bin Laden is headed to his winter citadel in the Himalayas and will stay there until the spring thaw. DEBKA claims to be a self-supporting Internet publication devoted to independent, investigative reporting in the fields of international terrorism among other related fields that came into existence in 2000.

K-talks not through media: India tells Pak

NEW DELHI, Oct 26: Appearing not enthusiastic about Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's new formulation on the Kashmir issue, India on Tuesday made it clear that any such proposal or suggestion should be taken up only at the ongoing Composite Dialogue process. Unwilling to get into another war of words on this issue through the media that could hamper the current thaw in relations, said New Delhi in a guarded response.

"We have heard these comments. We do not believe that Jammu and Kashmir is a subject on which discussion can be held through the media," according to Mr Navtej Sarna, spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs.

Contending that Jammu and Kashmir was already one of the subjects in the Composite Dialogue process, he said "So, if there are any proposals, suggestions regarding that, that (composite dialogue) is the forum we expect they will be brought to".

New Delhi has repeatedly told Islamabad that the issue of autonomy in Jammu and Kashmir was a matter of internal debate and discussion within India and that there was no question of change of external status of the State.

Musharraf had yesterday suggested India and Pakistan could consider the option of identifying some "regions" of Kashmir on both sides of Line of Control, demilitarise them and grant them the status of independence or joint control or under UN mandate.

Musharraf's propositions are being viewed here as indicative of a realisation on Pakistan's part that the position held by it hitherto on Jammu and Kashmir are neither sustainable nor practicable.

It is felt that there still remained considerable distance to go before a realistic solution is possible. The Pakistan President's remarks are also not in tune with the observation made by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during their meeting in New York last month that any solution to the Jammu and Kashmir issue cannot be based on redrawing of boundaries or another partition.

Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz will be visiting India in the second half of November as SAARC Chairman during which he is expected to hold bilateral talks with Manmohan Singh.

The two sides have drawn a schedule for talks from November end on eight subjects including expert-level meetings on nuclear and conventional confidence building measures and on commencing the proposed bus link between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad.

Foreign Secretaries Shyam Saran and Riaz Khokhar are slated to meet in December to chalk out the schedule for the second round of meetings on the eight-point Composite Dialogue including Jammu and Kashmir and peace and security. The Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers will get a chance to meet a second time during the Saarc Summit in Dhaka in January.

China supports India's claim to UN SC seat

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Oct 20: In a significant development, China has virtually endorsed India's claim for a permanent member of the UN Security Council, an issue on which Beijing had chosen to remain silent till now. Speaking to a select group of journalists, Mr Tang Jiaxuan, State Councillor and a former foreign minister, said "we hope to see India playing a larger and constructive role in the Security Council for world peace and development."

Describing India as a "major" Asian nation with a large population and one of the fastest growing economies, Mr Tang said "China fully understands and endorses New Delhi's interest in playing a bigger role in international affairs." Official sources said that the issue figured in Mr Tang's talks with the External Affairs Minister, Mr K Natwar Singh, on Tuesday night. On Wednesday he called on the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and and also held talks with the National Security Adviser, Mr J N Dixit.

Mr Tang is leading a high-level delegation, including Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei, Deputy Secretary General of the State Council Chen Jinyu, Vice Minister for Culture Meng Xiaosi and President of the Exim Bank of China Yang Zilin. Condemning all kinds of terrorism, Mr Tang also hit at the West for following double standards in this regard.

Responding to a question on trade across Nathula Pass in Sikkim, he said preparations were on to start border trade through the Nathula Pass in the State. "Internal preparations for trade via Nathula Pass are being made." This statement is clear indication of the forward movement in the relations between the two countries and that Sikkim's status as an Indian state is no longer an issue.

He said border trade was in the interest of both countries, particularly the people of the border areas. "We are ready to provide more facilities for the conduct of border trade," he pointed out. The agreement for border trade through Nathula Pass was one of the major outcomes of former Prime Minister A B Vajpayee's landmark visit to China last year. It signalled Beijing's recognition of the 1975 merger of Sikkim with the Indian union. Till then, China had described the merger as "illegal annexation" by New Delhi.

Mr Tang said an Indian border trade study group had visited Lhasa in Tiber last month to discuss customs and other arrangements to start cross-border trade.

He also expressed confidence of an early settlement of the border problem between the two countries, given the rapidly growing bilateral ties. "We are making all efforts every possible way to find a just, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution to the border question." Mr Tang said "we have to continue the negotiations based on the principles of mutual adjustment and seeking a just acceptable solution, bearing in mind our mutual and expanding interests." He said "negotiations will continue to move forward and I am optimistic about future prospects."

In his talks with the External Affairs Minister, Mr Tang discussed the entire gamut of bilateral ties as well as international developments. The two leaders considered ways to further enhance economic and cultural cooperation between the two countries.

This is Mr Tang's first visit to India after he took over as the State Councillor in charge of foreign affairs in 2003. This post was earlier held by the Vice-Premier, Qian Qichen.

On the efforts to develop a trilateral dialogue between India, China and Russia, Mr Tang said this could help develop a common vision for the peace, stability and development of Asia and the world at large. The Foreign Ministers of the three countries have already a few meetings in this regard.

In the evening, the visiting Chinese State Councillor, Mr. Tang Jiaxuan called on the Prime Minister and conveyed the greetings of President Hu Jintao and handed over a letter from Premier Wen Jiabao to Prime Minister. State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan briefed Prime Minister on recent developments in India-China relations which he said had maintained a sound momentum. As a result of the efforts of both sides, the bilateral relationship has entered a new phase of development.

He said that proceeding from a long-term and strategic perspective, China is committed to the development of steady and sustained growth of relations with India. He conveyed that China supports a bigger role for India in the international community, including in the United Nations Security Council.

Prime Minister expressed satisfaction over the development of India-China relations and expressed the commitment of the Government of India to further develop bilateral relations and exchanges with China. He noted the enormous scope for cooperation between the two countries.
Prime Minister expressed happiness that the Chinese Premier will be visiting India at an early date and mentioned that a warm welcome awaited him.

Nehru's 1954 visit to Vietnam of great significance: Hanoi

HANOI, Oct 17: India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's visit to Vietnam 50 years ago on this day is of great significance to this country as he was the first foreign head of State to come here just a week after its liberation, Vietnamese Foreign Minister Nguyen Dy Nien, said on Saturday.

"Fifty years ago, Prime Minister Nehru, was the first foreign Head of Government to come to Hanoi just one week after its total liberation. Accompanying him was his beloved daughter - Indira Gandhi. It was amazing that the two most outstanding figures of India were all present in Hanoi at that historic conjucture," Nguyen Dy Nien told a special seminar held here to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the meeting of the two leaders.

"Also at that time 50 years ago, my colleagues and I took over the Ministry of Foregin Affairs, and since then I began my career as a diplomat and this historic visit is still fresh in my memory," the Minister noted. He read out a poem penned by Ho Chi Minh to Nehru in 1942, which was translated into English by Sivarama Krishnan, former Indian envoy to Vietnam.

I am struggling, you are active
You are in Jail, I am in prison,
Ten thousand miles apart, we have not met
We communicate without words,
Shared ideas link you and me
What we lack is personal encounter
I am jailed by a neighbouring friend
You are chained and fettered by the enemy.

Nguyen Dy Nien said that Ho Chi Minh and Prime Minister Nehru, had struck a friendship. "Uncle Ho had adopted Indira Gandhi as his niece and even when she became Prime Minister she continued calling Ho Chi Minh Uncle Ho." He said the meeting between Nehru and Ho Chi Minh had helped forge a close cooperation between the two countries in struggling for implementing the Geneva Accord.

"The close friendship and strategic sight of the two leaders have bonded our nations together standing side-by-side to rise above all vicissitudes of history," he told the admirers and fans of the two Asian leaders. He said the the root of the seemingly personal ties between the two were convergence of their national liberation ideals, desire for peace, liberty and independece, prospertiy for the country and solidarity among nations, determination to abolish oppression, exploitation and power politics.

"Those are the noble values and quintessence of Vietnam-India friendship and solidarity, which have been crystallised from and tested over times," he said.

Gen Giap for closer ties with India

HANOI, Oct 17: The legendary military hero of Vietnam, General Vo Nguyen Giap, today called for closer economic and cultural ties with India to match the immense depth and reach of the political relationship. The 93-year-old leader, who received the visiting External Affairs Minister, K. Natwar Singh, at his residence here, thanked India for playing an important role in the development of Vietnam's human resources.

During the meeting, Mr Singh conveyed respects and greetings from the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and the Congress President, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, and on behalf of the people of India. Citing the meeting between Prime Minister Nehru and President Ho Chi Minh 50 years back to the day, he said that India and Vietnam have very close relations and India has the highest respect for its relations with Vietnam.

In response General Vo Nguyen Giap, recalled the same meeting and said he remembered not only Prime Minister Nehru but also his daughter Indira Gandhi, whom President Ho Chi Minh adopted as his niece. He went on to convey his greetings to the leadership in India and pointed out the special aspect of the closeness of the relations between the two countries.

He also said that in his many visits to India, he had visited many scientific and industrial institutions and emphasized that his feeling for India was a profound one. Pointing out that many Vietnamese students studying in India, he thanked the Indian Government for all the help that has been received.

NZ PM Clarke visit to boost ties with India

TTO News Service

NEW DELHI, Oct 16: The New Zealand Prime Minister, Mrs Helen Clarke, accompanied by her husband, Prof. Peter Davis, arrived here Friday on a five-day visit to India. She is here at the invitation of the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh. Her visit would boost Indo-New Zealand ties. India's relations with New Zealand are warm and cordial.

A spokesman of the External Affairs Ministry said "the visit of Prime Minister Helen Clarke will be a timely opportunity for the leaders of the two countries to exchange views and perspectives on regional as well as bilateral issues of mutual interest and discuss ways to take forward the relationship into a 21st century partnership."

A business delegation, representatives of Indian diaspora and senior officials from the Government of New Zealand will also accompany the Prime Minister. The visit of the New Zealand Prime Minister is the first in almost two decades, after Prime Minister David Lange visited India in April 1985.
During the visit, Prime Minister Clarke will call on the President, Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, and hold talks with the Prime Minister. The External Affairs Minister, Mr Natwar Singh, will call on the visiting dignitary.

She will also address a combined gathering of the Confederation of Indian Industry and Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry in New Delhi. On Sunday she leaves for Agra, and then travel to Bangalore and Mumbai, before returning to the Capital on October 20.

Aneil Mathrani next Ambassador to Croatia

NEW DELHI, Oct 11: Mr Aneil Mathrani has been appointed as the next Ambassador of India to Croatia, in succession to Mr K.L. Agrawal. He is expected to take up his assignment shortly, according to a spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs.

Time not right to sign NPT: PM

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Oct 7: The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, today asserted that time was not right for India to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and also said that the Government would remove all hurdles to attract more foreign investments, including that from Germany. Addressing a press conference along with the German Chancellor, Mr Gerhard Schroeder, following their summit-level talks here, Dr Manmohan Singh said "we are a nuclear power. We are a responsible nuclear power."

The Prime Minister said that India acted with restraint and noted that its nuclear doctrine was based on "no-first use". "We have an impeccable record in export control and we would like to work with like-minded countries on non-proliferation issues," said Dr Singh. The circumstances were not right to sign the NPT, he said. "India in any case fulfilled the commitments of a nuclear power."

Mr Schroeder, who concluded a two-day visit here Thursday, said Germany would support India to have closer relations with the Group of Eight (G-8) industrial nations. "This is part of the strategic partnership with India," he said, when asked if Germany would support India's inclusion in the exclusive club. The German Chancellor's visit was part of the annual summit-level interaction the two countries institutionalised during his last visit to India in 2001.

Emphasising his Government's mandate to carry forward reforms, Dr Singh said the UPA Government was committed to creating an environment conducive to larger private investment, both domestic and foreign. The Prime Minister said "in the months and years to come, we will work together with all like-minded countries and our partner in Germany to remove all the obstacles that come in the way of increased German investment and technology flows and in promoting a harmonious trading relationship."

Referring to his discussion with Mr Schroeder, he said the two countries had agreed to set a target to double the bilateral trade in the next five years. Mr Schroeder's visit, he said would lend momentum to the strategic partnership between the two countries. The German Chancellor said he was committed to promoting this partnership and that much more needed to be done to tap the existing vast economic potential. He said he would do everything possible to promote trade with India and remove barriers that came in the way.

German Chancellor Schroeder arrives

NEW DELHI: German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder Wednesday arrived on a two-day state visit to further strengthen bilateral ties with India during which he will hold talks with President A P J Abdul Kalam and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, his first interaction with the UPA Government. Schroeder was warmly received by Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahamed at the Indira Gandhi International Airport here on his arrival this morning.

He was accompanied by German Education and Research Minister Edelgard Bulmahn, Parliamentary State Secretary Ditmar Staffelt and a high-level official, business and media delegation. Schroeder will call on President Kalam and hold extensive parleys with Prime Minister Singh who will host a lunch in his honour. The German Chancellor will deliver the seventh Rajiv Gandhi Memorial Lecture on Peace and Stability in a Globalised World at the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation here.

The visit is part of annual summit-level interaction between India and Germany, which was institutionalised during Schroeder's last visit to India in October, 2001. Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited Germany in May, 2003.

India attaches great importance to the visit which is seen as a landmark in bilateral partnership. It will provide an excellent opportunity to review bilateral relations including cooperation in economic and science and technology sectors. Schroeder will address the Indo-German Economic Forum jointly organised by CII, FICCI and the Indo-German Chamber of Commerce and inaugurate "Science Circle", a network of Indian and German scholars and research institutions on either side.

An MoU for enhanced cooperation in science and technology between the Department of Science and Technology and Max Planck Institute of Germany will be signed in the presence of Schroeder and Minister of State for Science and Technology Kapil Sibal.

Indian officials said the visit will provide an opportunity for both sides to review progress made on the agenda for the Indo-German partnership in the 21st century, which both sides have adopted in May, 2000 envisaging a new strategic dimension to the relationship. Schroeder's talks with Indian leaders will cover regional and global developments and provide an occasion to reiterate the shared view on the need for reform of the UN Security Council and express support for each other's candidature in an expanded Security Council at the highest level.

The officials said India attached special importance to its relations with Germany and was eager to expand and intensify bilateral relations to a level befitting the strategic relationship between the two countries. India views Germany as an important interlocutor for it in G-8, EU and in the international fora. Germany is the largest economy in the EU and third largest in the world.

Germany is India's second largest trading partner within the EU and also a major source of technology and investment. Both sides feel that the bilateral trade of five billion Euros was well below the true potential. The business interaction will examine ways and means to augment bilateral trade and cooperation in niche areas of science and technology for mutually beneficial partnership.

Inaugurating the 50th subsidiary of currency automation company Giesecke and Devrient at Gurgaon, Haryana, Mr Schroder said Germany was hopeful that the Indian economy would continue to grow at 6-8 per cent and political framework and conditions would remain bright. "India has grown by 6-8 per cent in the previous years and we expect it to continue and India will remain a major player in global economy," he said.

He said the political conditions were bright for the country's economic growth and it was a win-win situation for both India and Germany. He said this was because German companies investing here would provide employment to Indian specialists who would have secure jobs because of the technology used which was created in Germany.

India needed excellent conditions for growth including a large pool of computer professionals and engineers, he said. There was tremendous potential for companies investing in the Indian market, he added. The function was also attended by Haryana Chief Minister O P Chautala.

India, S Korea sign extradition treaty

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Oct 5: Ushering in a new chapter in their bilateral relations, India and South Korea on Tuesday signed an extradition treaty and an accord on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters. The treaties were signed in the presence of the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and the visiting South Korean President, Mr Roh Moo-Hyun, by the External Affairs Minister, Mr K Natwar Singh, and the South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr Ban Ki-Moon.

The Prime Minister and Mr Roh held over 90-minute meeting covering a wide range of bilateral, multilateral and global issues during which they agreed to establish a long-term cooperative partnership for peace and prosperity. During the discussions, both sides noted with satisfaction the steady development of relations between India and the ROK since the establishment of diplomatic relations in December 1973.

With a view to further strengthening relations, it was agreed to establish a "Long-term Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity", which will seek to take advantage of economic complementarities and political convergences and also develop closer and more extensive understanding and cooperation in regional and international affairs.

Prime Minister and President Roh noted the decision to launch a new dialogue on foreign policy and security by early 2005, covering regional and international security issues, bilateral defence and service-to-service exchanges and counter-terrorism. It was also agreed to further promote exchanges and interaction in the defence field, including cooperation between the Navies, coast guards and related agencies of the two countries in areas like anti-piracy and search and rescue operations.

Consultations on expanding cooperation in the fight against international terrorism would be carried out through various bilateral and multilateral mechanisms. It was decided to step up efforts to take bilateral economic partnership to a higher level, taking advantage of the complementarities in the economies and synergies in trade, investment and hi-tech areas, so that the full potential in this regard could be realized. Both sides agreed to set a target of US$ 10 billion for bilateral trade by 2008.

It was also agreed to establish a Joint Study Group, composed of government officials, economists and representatives of business community, to take a comprehensive view of the bilateral linkages in trade, investment and services and to come up with concrete suggestions on expansion of economic engagement.

The JSG will also examine the feasibility of a comprehensive economic partnership agreement between India and the ROK. The JSG will start its work latest by January 2005 and submit its report within one year. Prime Minister welcomed investment by Korean companies in India and said that the Government of India was committed to creating a congenial climate for foreign direct investment.

President Roh responded positively and remarked that Korean companies were prepared to make a long-term commitment to India and that they were in India to stay. He noted that the large business delegation accompanying him, which consisted of CEOs and top executives of major Korean companies, was optimistic about the prospects in India.

He also referred to the proposal for a large investment by the ROK company, POSCO in an integrated steel plant and associated facilities in Orissa, which is under serious negotiation at present. Both sides agreed to work together to encourage greater investments from the ROK in India.

It was decided to promote cooperation in various sectors, including information and communication technology, infrastructure, petro-chemicals, oil and gas field development including third country collaborations, automobiles, shipbuilding, agriculture, and iron and steel manufacturing.

In the afternoon, the Vice President and the External Affairs Minister called on the visiting dignitary. President Roh will meet the President this evening, who will host a banquet in honour of the visiting dignitary. Mrs Sonia Gandhi, Chairperson, UPA Coordination Committee, will call on President Roh tomorrow morning.

Earlier, the South Korean President was accorded a ceremonial reception at the forecourt of the Rashtrapati Bhavan where he was warmly received by the President, Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, the Prime Minister and the External Affairs Minister. Mr Roh, who is on a three-day visit, said he was "deeply impressed by the blue sky and the beautiful scenery filled with green."

Responding to questions about the prospects of Indo-Korean relations, he said Koreans were full of hope and expectations about the future in this respect. "A large number of Koreans are full of hope and expectations about the future." Asked about the North Korean nuclear problem, he said "North Korean nuclear issue and inter-Korean relations is often confronted by unexpected contingencies. It is only natural that such circumstances occur.

"However, because we are all working to bring about a peaceful resolution, before long we will come to a peaceful settlement," he said. Mr Roh said the Korean government is firmly committed to achieving peace and prosperity on the basis of trust.

Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs

TTO News Service

NEW DELHI, Sept 9: The Ministry of NRI Affairs has been renamed as the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, according to a notification issued by the Rashtrapati Bhawan, an official spokesman said. In Hindi, the ministry will now be known as `Pravasi Bhartiya Karya Mantralaya.'

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government had created the new NRI ministry under the Cabinet Minister, Mr Jagdish Tytler, but there was no clear-cut work allocation to it. Overlapping of NRI-related issues already under the charge of the External Affairs Ministry added to the woes of the NRI ministry with the former unwilling to give up areas under it.

Official sources said with the renaming of the ministry, its area of operation would be broadened dealing with issues concerning Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) as well as all overseas Indians, including People of Indian Origin (PIOs).

India, Pak agree to launch tourist visa

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Sept 8: If no spectacular breakthrough was expected, neither was a dramatic setback. Despite sharp differences over Jammu and Kashmir and cross-border terrorism, India and Pakistan have agreed to push ahead with talks to find a "peaceful negotiated final settlement" for all bilateral issues.

The External Affairs Minister, Mr Natwar Singh, and his Pakistani counterpart, Mr Khurshid Kasuri, capping the first round of the eight-subject composite dialogue process, have agreed on13 proposals aimed at confidence building, promotion of friendly exchanges and enhancing trade and economic cooperation.

Pledging to continue "serious and sustained" dialogue, the two countries on Wednesday agreed to discuss modalities for disengagement and redeployment of troops in Siachen and decided to launch a new tourist visa.

With these proposals, the two sides have set a positive tone for the maiden meeting later this month between the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf in New York on the margins of the UN General Assembly session.

A joint statement issued on the two-day talks between the two Foreign Ministers said the two sides would have meeting on all issues for starting Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service. The proposed bus link has been bogged down over the issue of travel documents with India suggesting use of passports and Pakistan insisting on special document.

The two sides decided to set up a mechanism to deal with the issue of civilian prisoners and fishermen "effectively and speedily".

Giving details of the statement, a spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs, Mr Navtej Sarna, said the foreign ministers expressed satisfaction at the "progress made so far" and "positively assessed" the developments in bilateral relations over the past year.

The two ministers "reiterated the confidence that the composite dialogue will lead to peaceful settlement of all bilateral issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, to the satisfaction of both sides". They agreed to continue with the "serious and sustained" dialogue to find a "peaceful negotiated final settlement" while expressing their determination to take the process forward.

With the addition of the new category of tourist visa, Indian and Pakistani tourists will be able to travel across the border. Under the prevailing system, special group tours are permitted for visiting religious shrines and people given visas to visit relatives across the border. As a result, tourists often had to "invent" relatives to visit each other's country.

On Siachen, it was agreed that the outcome of the August 2004 meeting of defence secretaries would be implemented.

New Delhi and Islamabad had on August 6 agreed to discuss modalities for "disengagement and redeployment" of troops in Siachen, the world's highest battlefield, and hold further discussions on them. Defence secretaries are expected to meet again on the Siachen issue.

The statement, released shortly before Kasuri left for Islamabad at the end of his five-day visit, said the two sides agreed to hold expert level meetings on Conventional and Nuclear CBMs. Under this, they will also discuss draft agreement on advance notification of missile tests.

Significantly, the two sides chose to re-state certain formulations agreed earlier. They reiterated their commitment to the principles and purposes of the UN Charter, and their determination to implement the Simla Agreement in "letter and spirit".

Recalling the reassurance contained in the joint press statement of January 6 this year, "they exchanged views on carrying the process forward in an atmosphere free from terrorism and violence".

Gen Musharraf had after a meeting with then Prime Minister A B Vajpayee in Islamabad assured that territory under Pakistan's control would not be allowed to be used for terrorist activities against India.

During the talks, New Delhi conveyed its serious concern over increase in the June and July in infiltration level and incidents of violence in J&K and reminded Islamabad of Musharraf's commitment.

As a step to encourage people-to-people contacts, further measures would be initiated for facilitation of visits to religious shrines and upkeep of historical sites, the three-page statement said.

Pakistan's new Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz will visit India later this year as SAARC Chairperson. He will have his first meeting with Manmohan Singh in Dhaka in January, 2005, on the margins of the SAARC Summit.

Foreign secretaries Shyam Saran and Riaz Khokhar will meet in December to discuss overall progress as well as subjects of Peace and Security including CBMs and J&K in the Composite Dialogue.

The two foreign secretaries, who met here prior to the ministerial meet, would also work out a schedule of meetings on the other six subjects of the dialogue process -- Siachen, Wullar Barrage/Tulbul Navigation Project, Sir Creek, Terrorism and Drug Trafficking, Economic and Commercial Cooperation and Promotion of Friendly Exchanges in various fields.

Mr Natwar Singh has accepted an invitation by Mr Kasuri to visit Pakistan and dates for it would be worked out through diplomatic channels, the statement said.

It was decided that railway authorities of the two countries would meet to discuss the proposed rail link between Munnabao and Khokhrapar. Biannual meeting will be held between the Border Security Force and Pakistani Rangers in October this year, the statement said.

Narcotics Control authorities of the two countries will meet in October/November this year for discussing several issues including finalisation of a Memorandum of Understanding.

The two sides agreed have a meeting between Indian Coast Guards and the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency in November, 2004 to discuss, among other things, MOU for establishing communication links between them. An Expert Committee will be established to consider trade-related issues, the statement said.

The two sides decided to undertake a joint survey of the boundary pillars in the horizontal segment of the international boundary in the Sir Creek area.

There will be enhanced interaction and exchanges among the respective foreign offices, including study tours of young diplomats/probationers to each other's country.

Recognising the importance of availability and access to energy resources in the region around South Asia, it was agreed that the Petroleum Ministers of the two countries could meet to discuss the issue in its multifarious dimensions.

The statement said the talks, both at the Foreign Minister and Foreign Secretary levels, were held in a cordial and constructive atmosphere.

111 Bhutanese jailed for aiding Indian militants

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Sept 5: At least 111 Bhutanese nationals, including seven women, have been jailed in Bhutan on charges of aiding and abetting Indian separatists. Six courts in the Himalayan kingdom delivered the verdicts after "eight months of exhaustive proceedings" in which 123 people were tried as "accomplices" and "accessories" to the militants, according to Bhutan Government-run newspaper Kuensel.

"Two persons received life sentence (above 20 years), five were sentenced between 15 and 18 years, 14 people from 10 to 15 years and the rest between four years and 10 years imprisonment in accordance with the provisions of the National Security Act of Bhutan, 1992. One person is still under trial at the Samdrup Jongkhar court," Kuensel said. Seven women were among those sentenced. Those convicted include civil servants, road workers from the national work force, private workers, business people, drivers and farmers.

Those convicted were found guilty of colluding with three outlawed Indian separatist groups -- the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) and the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO). The three rebel groups had earlier maintained well-entrenched bases inside the kingdom to carry out hit-and-run guerrilla strikes on soldiers in India's Northeastern state of Assam and parts of the neighbouring state of West Bengal. Bhutan launched a military offensive in December last year to evict the rebels, smashing some 30 camps. It later claimed to have ousted the militants from its territory.

"Supply of rations, livestock and other goods, facilitating and registering of vehicles and two wheelers, transport arrangements and carriage by mules, facilitating telephones and fax, sheltering and providing food, receiving cash and loans and facilitating cash transfers, providing storage facilities, association with militants, espionage, receiving gratification were some of the offenses on which the accused were sentenced," according to a court spokesman.

The report said in determining the sentence, the courts took into consideration "the degree to which the violation threatened the security and national interest, the volume of commerce or assistance involved and the extent of planning, and whether there were multiple occurrences".

The spokesperson said "where such factors have been found to be present in an extreme form or in case of violations during the time of the armed conflict, the defendants have been awarded life imprisonment."

The three Indian rebel groups were operating from Bhutan for the past 12 years though the Bhutanese government had repeatedly urged the militants to leave the kingdom peacefully. The military operation in December last came after six years of failed talks with the rebels in Bhutan, a largely Buddhist kingdom of 700,000 people which has close political ties with India. The government began arresting people suspected of assisting the militants soon after the military operations.

"The heinous crime of aiding and abetting the militants for personal monetary gain and seriously harming the national interest is a crime against the state," said the spokesperson. "Therefore knowingly and intentionally aiding and abetting a crime against the state is the worst offense that a citizen can commit and nothing can redress for it."

The spokesperson explained that although generally there was no liability under criminal law unless there is a guilty mind, the plea by defendants that they were not aware of the likely harm or did not have conscious intent to jeopardise national security and sovereignty by rendering assistance to the militants was not a valid defense. "Ignorance of the law, does not excuse anyone that is of the age of discretion and of sound mind from the penalty of the breach of it," said the spokesperson.

The National Security Act of 1992 states that "if any individual should infringe the statute law of the country through ignorance, greed or carelessness, he must abide by the consequences of his error".

The illegal presence of the Indian militants was extensively debated in the National Assembly since 1997 after the government came to know that the Indian militants had clandestinely infiltrated into the country across the porous border and were taking sanctuary in the Bhutanese forests. In 1999, the National Assembly resolved to punish all those who assist the militants according to the National Security Act.

During the recent 82nd session of the National Assembly, Assembly members unanimously called for those found guilty of extending any form of assistance to the militants to be tried and sentenced without clemency.

"The grave concern of His Majesty the King, the great distress of the government and the serious anguish of the people had been repeatedly and consistently voiced through the resolutions of the National Assembly. It resulted in a military operation by a peace-loving kingdom. Unfortunately, the situation was aggravated by the irresponsible actions of these Bhutanese citizens," said the court spokesman. Bhutan shares a 380-km unfenced border with Assam and West Bengal.

India to send farm experts to Bhutan

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Aug 31: India has agreed to send two expert delegations to Bhutan for preparation of draft proposals for extending suitable technical and other assistance in the areas of Animal Husbandry and Dairying and Agricultural Marketing. The delegations from Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying and the National Institute of Agricultural Marketing will visit Bhutan in September. This was the outcome of the Ministerial level meeting between the visiting Bhutanese Agriculture Minister, Mr. Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup, and his Indian counterpart, Mr Sharad Pawar, here on Monday evening.

Both sides felt that a meaningful Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) may be entered into in suitable areas of cooperation after the Bhutanese delegation makes a tentative assessment. The MoU would be a framework for Indian assistance and participation in advancement of agriculture and allied sectors in Bhutan.

Bhutan desired to avail of technical and physical assistance in improving the cattle breed, strengthening veterinary services, formulation of cattle and fodder policies and embryo transfer technology. The visiting delegation expressed keen interest in Indian assistance for developing an Agriculture Marketing system in that country.

Bhutan also requested that its technical experts be given access to all India demonstration trials, scientific conferences and training programmes conducted by the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR). Senior officials from the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation, Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying, ICAR were present in the talks.

The Bhutan Minister arrived here on August 23 on a 11-day official visit to India. Earlier last week, along with the Bhutanese delegation, he visited various agricultural, forestry and livestock institutes in Delhi, Karnal, Shimla, Solan and Dehradun. Besides Mr Pawar, the visting dignitary also held talks with Mr A Raja, Minister for Environment and Forests and Mr E Ahamed, Minister of State for External Affairs.

The visit of Mr Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup is important as it is expected to further strengthen the close ties of cooperation and friendship between the two countries in the field of agriculture and livestock.

Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup is the recipient of the Druk Thuksey Medal (Heart son of Bhutan), the highest individual award of Bhutan, and Coronation Medal. He has also held important positions in the country. These include Chairmanship of the Council of Ministers and Head of Government of Bhutan (1999 -2000); Bhutan's first Ambassador to Kuwait; Deputy Minister of the Health and Education Ministry; and Secretary of the Health and Education Ministry. Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup is no stranger to Delhi as he is an alumni of St. Stephens College, Delhi University.

Bhutan to strenghten agri ties with India

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Aug 25: The Bhutan Minister of Agriculture, Mr Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup, is on a 11-day visit to India with a nine-member delegation to explore possibilities of expanding cooperation between the two countries in the field of agriculture and livestock. This is his first visit to India in his capacity as the Minister of Agriculture.

Bhutan has already benefited from the science and technological advances in India. The experiences and the lessons learnt from the Operation Flood, Green Revolution, the Himachal apple industry, seed research, and marketing systems are some of the areas of interest that will be discussed with the Indian authorities.

At the end of the visit on September 2, it is expected that the areas of cooperation in agriculture and livestock development, particularly project financing, capacity development, and exchange of expertise and information, will be identified that will further strengthen the excellent ties of friendship, understanding and cooperation that exist between the two countries.

Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup will meet his counterpart Mr Sharad Pawar, Union Cabinet Minister for Agriculture, Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution. He will also meet Mr Natwar Singh, Minister for External Affairs. He is currently visiting various agricultural, forestry and livestock institutes in Delhi, Karnal, Shimla, Solan and Dehradun.

Bhutan not responsible for Assam floods

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, July 23: Bhutan has denied recent reports in a section of Indian media that had attributed the worsening flood situation in Assam to the breaching of the Tsatichhu Lake, about 35 km upstream of the Kurichhu hydro power project in eastern Bhutan.

The reports had stated that the Assam Chief Minister had written a letter to the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, to urge the Bhutanese Government to ensure "adequate measures to safeguard the dam." There were also some reports to suggest that that the floods in North Bengal were made worse due to "indiscriminate extraction of boulders in Bhutan."

Stating that these reports are factually incorrect, the Bhutanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has clarified that the Tsatichhu Lake breached around 1630 hours on July 10. The Tsatichhu is a tributary of the Kurichu river on which the hydropower project is situated. The lake was formed by a massive landslide, which occurred on September 10, 2003, blocking the whole ravine and thereby forming a dam.

The Ministry stated that the Kurichhu Hydro Power Project is a run-of-the-river scheme that diverts the river through penstock pipes to produce electricity and then join the main river course via the tailrace channel. As the Kurichhu project is not a storage scheme, there are no large volumes of water stored and hence opening of the gates do not increase the flow to create floods downstream.

It stated that a number of expert teams had visited the Tsatichhu lake to assess the possibility of breaching it. The most recent visit was by an expert team from India on June 5 and 6 this year. All the expert groups had concluded that it was not possible to manually breach the dam. To reduce the possible impact in the event of a breach, an overflow channel was created to maintain the water level in the dam. At the same time, early warning systems were enhanced so that warning is passed immediately downstream to India in the event of a breach.

The Ministry stated that Eastern Bhutan and the whole Himalayan region has been experiencing continuous monsoon rain in the past few weeks. This finally caused the Tsatichhu lake to breach through the overflow channel on July 10, 2004. All concerned in Bhutan and India were immediately informed of the breach.

The first waves reached Kurizampa, near the Kurichhu Hydro Power Project, around 1800 hours and by 1930 hours, the water level had progressively decreased. The maximum discharge recorded at Kurizampa was 5764 cubic metres per second at around 1830 hours as against 10,000 cubic metres per second as reported in some Indian papers. Because of prior information of the breach, an increase in water level of the Manas river of about 4 cms per hour was noticed between 3 am and 5 am on 11 July. At that time, there were no reports of flooding.

The Ministry stated that Bhutan and India have a comprehensive scheme of flood warning that has been in place since the 1960s. This has been instrumental in providing timely information to India thereby allowing the Indian authorities to provide early warning to its people that live along the flood zones.

While the present spate of floods in Assam is not related to the breach in the Tsatichhu lake, information on the breach was conveyed immediately to the Indian authorities and based on which a high alert was issued by the Central Water Commission. Therefore, the Ministry stated that reports linking the breach in the lake to the floods in Assam are totally incorrect.

Some media reports had also suggested that mining activities in Bhutan might have worsened the floods in North Bengal. Here, it may be mentioned that while there is minimal mining in Bhutan, Royal Government's National Environment Commission and the Department of Geology and Mines are strictly monitoring it and therefore, there is no question of indiscriminate mining in the country. Any mining is carried out in a scientific manner and with minimal environmental impact.

It may also be mentioned that the Royal Government of Bhutan attaches the highest importance to the preservation and protection of its environment and would never undermine the safety and security of our friendly Indian neighbours by carrying out any indiscriminate acts of mining.

Russian arms expo truly becomes international

By Deepak Arora

The revamped T-72M1 tank, Israeli small firearms, the overhauled Acacia and Msta self-propelled guns, and new combat tank-support vehicle were some of the star attractions at the recently concluded Russian Expo Arms - 2004. The large participation from some of the leading foreign companies and the amazing display of weapons, combat hardware and ammunition this year has given the expo a true international stature, four years after it was launched.

The first defense-industry exhibition was organized in Nizhny Tagil (the Urals region) in 1999, involving no one else but CIS enterprises, which supply accessories for Russian combat hardware. Multi-role processing centers, which now operate at regional defense factories, were featured at the 2004 arms expo by such leading companies as Fehlmann and Scheeberger of Switzerland, France's Huron, Weiler and Wenzel of Germany, Sweden's Seko Tools, and Japan's Mitsubishi.

Contrary to Cold War stereotypes, Western countries are helping Russia produce additional weaponry; this became a real sensation at Russian Expo Arms-2004. However, few people noticed that sensation. Quite possibly, Cold War stereotypes are now becoming history. Frankly speaking, cooperation between Russia's military-industrial sector and Western defense industries no longer surprises anyone, according to RIA Novosti's military analyst Victor Litovkin.

Israel caused quite a stir in Nizhny Tagil, displaying its small firearms in that legendary city and riveting the public eye. (The world-famous Kalashnikov assault rifle was developed in Nizhny Tagil) It seems that the Israeli display attracted more visitors, including gunsmiths, than any other exhibits.

Designers working with the famous Uralvagonavod factory in Nizhny Tagil offered their unique concept for upgrading those sturdy T-72 main battle tanks. Over 20,000 of these tanks were produced since the early 1970s. The T-72 is the most popular main battle tank in the world. India alone had received nearly 2,000 T-72s, with the Russian army still wielding approximately the same number of such hard-hitting tanks.

The revamped T-72M1 tank demonstrated at the Russian expo features a new fire-control system, which is stabilized along two planes, as well as a new gun, which can be replaced, without taking the turret off, a new 1,200-hp engine and other state-of-the-art weapons and auxiliary systems. All this enhances its combat efficiency by almost 100 percent. The T-72M1's potential matches that of the new T-90 main battle tank. In the meantime tank-modernization costs make up for just 25 percent of the new tank's price.

The Russians have also overhauled their 152 Acacia self-propelled gun, as well as the 152-mm Msta-S self-propelled gun, considerably enhancing their combat efficiency all the same. Both weapons were shown off in Nizhny Tagil by the Yekaterinburg-based Uraltransmash production association.

Uraltransmash general designer Yury Butrin noted that both howitzers featured new-generation fire-control equipment, which consisted of computers and automatic "blind-sighting" systems, as well as a unique positioning system, which was linked with satellite-navigation networks, i.e. Russia's Glonass and GPS of the United States. These howitzers can hit their targets in the real-time mode, receiving all essential data from Pchela (Bee) and other remote-piloted aircraft.

Unlike their foreign hand-loaded equivalents, the Msta and the Acacia boast automatic loaders, as well as air conditioners for enhanced crew comfort. By the way, TV footage of the Iraqi war showed such hand-loaded howitzers.

The Uralvagonzavod enterprise displayed its combat tank-support vehicle at the expo, with everyone flocking to admire it. Many foreign military attaches, which are accredited in Moscow, were really delighted to mention it. They flew over to Nizhny Tagil in order to learn more about new Russian weapons. Meanwhile, all of the combat tank-support vehicle's components attracted their attention.

Experts know perfectly well that any well-advertised tank remains highly vulnerable. Mines and rocket-launcher operators hiding in the bushes can disable it. The thing is that the tank affords only limited visibility to its commander, gun layer and mechanic-driver. In a bid to cope with such threats, Uralvagonzvod experts have come up with special equipment boasting numerous optical, thermal-imaging and other data-exchange channels, as well as panoramic sights, for all-round visibility. They can watch the battlefield round the clock, penetrating smoke screens, too.

In other words, the enemy is unable to spot this combat tank-support vehicle, whose crew has enemy positions in its sights. Moreover, this vehicle can fire through smoke screens. The vehicle's rapid-fire 30-mm gun's two barrels can be fired in tandem or separately. Add to this four Ataka (Attack) supersonic anti-tank laser-guided missiles, a large-caliber anti-aircraft machine-gun under the turret and some other weapons systems.

The combat tank-support vehicle will enhance the combat potential of Russia's T-72M1, T-90S and T-80U main battle tanks several times over. The same can be said about the US Army's M1A1 Abrams main battle tank or the Israeli Merkava tank.

India, Norway set up Joint Commission

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI: India and Norway have signed an agreement to set up a Joint Commission between the two countries at the Foreign Ministers level. This structural framework would be used to give a new dynamism to bilateral relations, especially in the commercial and economic sectors. The agreement was signed soon after the visiting Norwegian Foreign Minister, Mr Jan Petersen, held talks with his Indian counterpart, Mr Natwar Singh.

The two-day trade between India and Norway for the year 2002-03 is modest US $ 167 million. The two leaders felt that there was a lot of potential that can be actualized through setting up structural arrangements and increasing the contacts, both at the official and industry levels.

During the talks, the two leaders discussed ways to further consolidate bilateral ties with special focus on enhancing cooperation in the energy and oil sector. Norway is a major producer of hydrocarbons. Besides holding one-hour talks on Tuesday morning, the two leaders continued discussions over a working lunch hosted by External Affairs Minister.

They also took the opportunity to have a comprehensive exchange of views on regional and international issues. Amongst the issues that were touched upon were the recent meetings in ARF, the NATO meeting in Istanbul, and the developments in Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Iraq.

It may be mentioned that Norway is involved in the peace process in Sri Lanka and whenever they have had the opportunity they have come and they have briefed India on what is happening and we have had mutually beneficial exchange of views, according to Mr Navtej Sarna, spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs.

During his one-day visit to New Delhi, Mr Petersen also held talks with the National Security Adviser, Mr J N Dixit.

India signs MOU on EDC

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, July 3: India has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam on Entrepreneurship Development Centre (EDC), a project taken up by New Delhi to set up centres to provide entrepreneurship skills to people in the South-East Asian countries. The External Affairs Minister, Mr Natwar Singh, and his counterparts from Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar signed the MOU in Jakarta on Friday. Mr Singh is in Jakarta for the ARF meet.

Mr Natwar Singh thanked the Ministers from the three countries for their participation in the project giving India an opportunity to share its developmental experience with them. "This perhaps is the best way to provide our people the tools of economic activity and self-employment," he said in a speech after the signing ceremony.

The three Foreign Ministers also thanked India for its generous gesture in helping set up the EDCs. Vietnamese Foreign Minister called Mr Singh his "guru and elder brother". "Since the first ASEAN-India summit in 2002 in Cambodia, cooperation with India has evolved comprehensively. India is an active dialogue partner with ASEAN," he said.

The MoU provides for allocating responsibilities for all the parties concerned. They are the Government of India as the promoter, the recipient countries and the Ahmedabad-based Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India, which has been hired as the consultant. The ASEAN secretariat is also a party as the EDC project has been initiated under ASEAN's Initiative for ASEAN Integration programme (IAI).

Meanwhile, India and Indonesia have agreed to increase cooperation between the two countries in the fields of security, defence, intelligence and law enforcement in order to combat international terrorism and other transnational organised criminal activities.

Mr Natwar Singh and his Indonesian counterpart Hassan Wirayuda signed an MOU on combating international terrorism here as the two countries recognised the need to strengthen cooperation at all levels to fight the menace in a comprehensive manner.

The MoU, signed between the two sides on the sidelines of the 11th ARF meeting, will provide a framework for cooperation in preventing, suppressing and combating international terrorism and other transnational organised criminal activities through the exchange and flow of information and intelligence.

The two countries will share intelligence, enhance cooperation between their respective law enforcement agencies and strengthen capacity building and capabilities through networking and programmes of training and education.

The two countries will also set up a Joint Working Group to effectively implement the objectives of the MoU and meet once a year alternatively in India and Indonesia and report to the Joint Commission.

UN official lauds Vietnam for reducing poverty by 40% since mid-1980s

By Deepak Arora

Marking the 25th anniversary of the United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) presence in Viet Nam, a senior agency official has praised the country for reducing poverty by 40 per cent and transforming itself "from a food-hungry nation to the second largest rice exporter in the world."

UNDP Associate Administrator Zéphirin Diabré, who is in Viet Nam recently, said land and price reforms helped reduce poverty from well over 70 per cent in the mid-1980s to about 29 per cent. Mr. Diabré is meeting with government officials and development partners to discuss UNDP's programme in the country and the challenges faced.

The UNDP and Vietnamese Government partnership in developing a new enterprise law contributed to the creation of more than one million new jobs, the agency said in a news release. Public administration reform has also radically simplified a wide range of bureaucratic transactions.

Viet Nam is also largely on track to meet the 2015 deadlines for the Millennium Development Goals, which were ratified by 189 nations at the UN Millennium Summit in 2000, UNDP said. The country is likely to become the first to publish its third report tracking the progress made in achieving the goals.



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