MonitorsPublished on Mar 01, 2012
Going by the latest economic status of the countries of the world, it looks like Nepal is joining the league of Sub-Saharan Africa. With a per capita income of $490.
Nepal's sluggish economic growth: Causes and cure

< class="heading1">Analysis

Going by the latest economic status of the countries of the world, it looks like Nepal is joining the league of Sub-Saharan Africa. With a per capita income of $490, it has just managed to leave behind countries like Congo and Burundi, according to the statistics in World Development Report (WDR).

The WDR is published by the World Bank annually. By incorporating key indictors of development in 128 countries of the world, this year’s report focused on ‘Gender Equality and Development.’ According to the report, and not surprisingly, the countries at the bottom of the list of poverty are from Africa, concentrated in Sub-Sahara with Nepal being an exception. In the bottom heap after Nepal are Mozambique, Madagascar and Togo (with per capita income of $440 each), Ethiopia ($380), Niger ($360), Sierra Leon ($340) and Liberia ($330).

Even in the regional statistics, Bangladesh has a per capita income of $640 whereas India’s is $1,340 with Maldives scoring the highest in South Asia with $4,290. It is noteworthy that Nepal was much ahead of Bangladesh just 20 years ago in this category and it shared an almost equal economic status with India three decades back.

This shows that Nepal has lagged far behind in its economic development even when the country embarked on development path way back in the 1950’s. Nepal adopted its First Five-Year Plan in 1956. The country still holds immense development potential with its fertile lands, climatic variations, diverse natural resources, excellent tourist sites and has world’s second largest reservoir of hydroelectric potential after Brazil. In the case of education, the country now has a remarkable 60 per cent literacy rate from around five per cent in 1950.

In a World Bank report titled ‘Resilience Amidst Conflict’ published in 2006, it was stated that poverty in Nepal fell from 42 per cent to 31 per cent between 1996 and 2004 despite a difficult, conflict-ridden environment. This was the time when wages for non-agricultural unskilled workers rose by 20 per cent and that of farm workers by 25 per cent. By 2004, 15 per cent of Nepalese were living in urban areas compared to seven per cent in 1996. Access in terms of connectivity saw vast improvement as the country’s road network grew 6.7 per cent a year between 1996 and 2004.

The obvious question is then why has Nepal lagged behind in economic development even with so much potential and opportunity. First, the country’s economy is sustained by remittances generated by one-million plus Nepalese working abroad, especially in the Gulf countries. Between 1996 and 2004, the remittances soared from three per cent of GDP ($203 million) to 12 per cent ($794 million). The proportion of households receiving remittances also increased from 24 per cent to 32 per cent during the same time period.

However, this trend created dependency and, as argued by many economists in the country. In turn, this contributed to a reduction in the recipients’ incentives to work, thus leading to slower growth. The growth rate came down from around 4-5 per cent in the 1990’s to about three per cent in early 2000. In addition, with large-scale labour migration from villages, agricultural production faced a major set-back, creating unfavourable climate for agriculture and export, especially of ready-made carpets. Labour migration has also put the country in high-risk category for HIV-AIDS transmission. It is now more than obvious that remittance was an unreliable source of overall economic growth.

Moreover, Nepal’s priority areas continue to include agriculture that needs to be expanded to cover high-value products. The country also needs infrastructure development in terms of road networks and for providing water and energy access to the remote villages, and financial markets to improve access to credit for the poor. Besides, Nepal must adopt the concept of inclusiveness in policy-planning and execution to uplift the human and social capacity of the marginalised and downtrodden communities.

Secondly, the country’s own development efforts did not yield expected results and the donor-driven projects could not meet specified targets. Nepal’s development efforts have been generously aided by foreign donors since the beginning of the Nineties, with the total assistance now crossing over $2 billion. Besides Nepal’s own national development investment rate is 29 per cent of its GDP, which is over $4 billion every year. It is high time the policy-makers and the Government in Nepal realised the futility of such donor-funded projects.

This then leads to the third important cause why Nepal is doing miserably in economic terms – rise of corruption. In the Corruption Perception Index 2010 published by Transparency International, Nepal ranked 146th among 180 countries of the world. In fact, it fell three positions down from the year 2009. It came second only to Afghanistan in terms of being most corrupt in South Asia. There has been immense misuse of public money and lack of accountability on donor funds.

The country has noted widespread institutional corruption of late, with the ‘Darfur scam’ involving the Nepal Police being latest in the series. Last year, in one of the largest corruption cases in Nepal, 34 senior and mid-ranking police officers were charged with embezzlement of more than $4 million during the procurement of obsolete and sub-standard armoured vehicles for the Nepali UN peace-keepers in Darfur, Sudan.

However, the most important factor for this sorry state of affairs in Nepal has been the most volatile political situation. Due to political instability, no Government since 1990, after the revival of multi-party democracy, has been able to push for implementation of economic plans. Even with the end of a decade-long insurgency in 2006, Nepali political actors could not push for a sustainable economic development model. In the absence of a secure and stable environment, the Foreign Direct Investment scenario remained bleak. From 390 million in 1995-96, the FDI reached 140 million in 2005-06. The trend continued to worsen. The UNCTAD’s FDI Performance Index in 2011 placed Nepal at 134th position. This report stated that Nepal received mere $39 million in FDI in 2010.Nepal’s worsening image as FDI destination is further illustrated by the latest statistics of Nepal’s Department of Industry according to which the FDI commitment has declined by 48.35 per cent in 2010-11.

The key challenge for economic development in Nepal, therefore, lies in political stability. This in-evidently requires that the peace process should be taken to its logical conclusion at the earliest and the Constituent Assembly needs to frame a new constitution well within the new May 28 deadline. If the Assembly fails, Nepal’s development prospects will be even bleaker.

(The writer is an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)



< class="heading1">Bangladesh

Home Ministers’ meeting a boost to ties

Dr. Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

India-Bangladesh relations got a major boost following a meeting between the Home Ministers of both countries in February. The meeting between P Chidambaram, Home Minister of India, and Sahara Khatun, his counterpart from Bangladesh, was the second in the series. The first meeting took place in Dhaka and the Indian Home Minister had visited Dhaka in July 2011. For the current meeting, the Home Minister of Bangladesh visited New Delhi. The meeting was a major confidence-building initiative and the discussions were extremely free and frank, providing an opportunity to sensitise each other about their respective concerns.

Major issues discussed in the meeting included border management, mutual legal assistance treaty, repatriation of prisoners and visa-related issues. Although the meeting did not result in the signing of any major agreement or treaty, it smoothened the way for the resolution of many long-standing issues. The most important of them was the extradition treaty between the two countries. The meeting showed some improvement on this score, and the treaty in this regard is likely to be signed shortly.

An extradition treaty between the two countries is very important as it would help in the extradition of Anup Chetia, a leader of United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), who is in Bangladesh jail. In the absence of an extradition treaty, the extradition of Chetia has been long pending. The treaty will also benefit Bangladesh as on many occasion criminals wanted in Bangladesh crosses the border and at times gets arrested in India. Due to lack of treaty their repatriation becomes difficult.

Besides, the two sides agreed to strengthen cooperation on border management. India and Bangladesh share around 4000 km of border passing by plain and hilly terrains, rivers and at times through densely-populated areas. This feature of the border has made the border porous, encouraging many cross-border crimes like illegal trafficking in humans, smuggling of narcotics, arms, fake currencies and even essential food items. Managing the border has become a major challenge for the border guards in the two countries. Cooperation between the countries in managing the border will play a significant role in reducing illegal activities at the border.

Another issue that found prominence at the meeting was the issue of firing by the border guards. Incidents of firing by the border guards evoked sentiments in Bangladesh. Bangladesh has been urging for complete ban on the firing at the border. Taking note of Dhaka’s concern, the two sides not only looked at the circumstances which compel the border guards to open fire but also tried to find out solution. A total of 23 border outposts were identified to be vulnerable and it was decided that the two countries will strengthen the presence of border guards in them and also resort to joint consultation.

The Home Minister of Bangladesh has reiterated that her country will not tolerate any anti-India activity on its soil. This is a positive development as it signifies Bangladesh’s commitment to continue its cooperation on security matters with India also in the future. Bangladesh has helped India enormously in fighting insurgency in the North-East. It facilitated arrested of many leaders of such groups who were hiding in that country like ULFA chairman Aurobindo Rajkhowa and National Democratic Front of Bodoland chief Ranjan Daimary.

The meeting has put a new thrust to the security cooperation between the two countries. To keep this momentum on, it will be important for the countries to materialise promises into action.



(The writer is an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)

< class="heading1">Country Reports

Nepal
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">China to build West Seti hydro project

The Nepal Government and China’s Three Gorges Corporation (TGC) has signed an agreement on construction of the 750 MW West Seti Hydro Electricity Project, which will be built at a cost of $1.6 billion.

As per the agreement, the Chinese power company will bring in 75 per cent of the total investment, while the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) will bear the remaining 25 per cent of the project cost.

The agreement also requires that the TGC should issue shares of one to five per cent of its total investment to Nepali nationals. Likewise, the NEA will get necessary funds from the Chinese power company in concessional loan, according to the agreement. It also states that works will be contracted out in July 2014 and the entire project will be completed by 2019.

Joint Secretary at the Energy Ministry Arjun Kumar Karki on behalf of the Nepal government and TGC CEO Cao Guangjing on the behalf of the Chinese power company signed the agreement.
< class="text11verdana">Source: ekantipur.com, myrepublica.com, March 1, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Bomb blasts in Kathmandu

A bomb explosion in the heart of the capital city of Kathmandu killed three persons and injured seven others on January 27. The blast occurred in front of the office of Nepal Oil Corporation, less than hundred metres from the southern gate of Singha Durbar, the Central government Secretariat which houses the Prime Minister’s Office and key Ministries.

A little known group, Samyukta Jatiya Mukti Morcha (United Ethnic Liberation Front), called up a private television channel to claim responsibility for the blast. Its coordinator said the blasts were to protest against the recent fuel hike.

Government investigations are underway and the Home Minister has announced compensation to the families of the dead and payment for all medical expenses of those undergoing treatment.

The Opposition has, however, accused the Government of not providing minimal security to citizens. Former Home Minister Bhim Rawal, of the CPN-UML was quoted by media as saying that the blast was a “result of a completely ad hoc and arbitrary style of functioning.”
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, The Hindustan Times, February 27, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">50 years on, India to compensate Koshi victims

India has agreed to provide compensation for the land acquired for building the Koshi barrage and for the submerged and eroded areas during the construction in the 1950s. Though Nepal and India had signed the Koshi Project Agreement in 1954 to this effect, the Nepal government, Nepali landowners and peasants were never compensated for the land they lost and for the damage of crops for over a half century.

It is now revealed that the agreement on compensations was reached with India at the meeting of the Nepal-India Joint Ministerial Commission on Water Resources (JMCWR) on February 15 in New Delhi. Accordingly, Nepal will get compensation for 7,700 bighas of land.
< class="text11verdana">Source:myrepublica.com, February 25, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Abducted boy found dead in India

A 10-year-old boy abducted from Bhairahawa about nine months ago has been found dead in India. A Nepal Police team recovered the body of Diwakar Yadav from Badahari village in Uttar Pradesh on February 25. The school uniform that Diwakar had worn helped identify him. The body had already decayed.

The village where Diwakar´s body was found is about 50 km south-west of Sunauli border. The Nepal Police team recovered Diwakar’s body from a pit. Indian police personnel and local villagers helped the Nepal Police team recover the dead body. < class="text11verdana">Source:myrepublica.com, February 26, 2012.

Pakistan
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Restrictions on trade with India to be phased out

The much-awaited decision on trade with India was finalised and the number of items that can be imported has been raised from 1,946 to about 5,600. This means that almost 90 per cent as against the previous 17 per cent of what India normally exports would be permitted. The Cabinet took a decision, over-riding the reservations expressed by the textile industry.

The Cabinet further asserted that India would be able to export all its goods without any restrictions and the MFN status would also be granted by January 1, 2013.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Dawn, March 1-2, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Determined to pursue the gas pipeline

Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said that they would pursue relations with Iran on the energy and trade front as it was in their national interest. She said, “I think all our friends are encouraged to understand the real energy crisis that is in Pakistan. We can’t afford to be selective of where we receive our energy supply from.” Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani also spoke in the same vein.“We are a sovereign country and we will do whatever is in the interest of Pakistan,” he said.

According to many analysts, this was a strong message to the US, to stop pressurising the country to abandon the gas pipeline project. These comments came after Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State warned that the country that it would face severe sanctions if they decide to pursue the project.

Iran, on the other hand has offered a deal of 80,000 barrels of crude oil on a daily basis and $250 million loan in order to help set in motion the gas pipeline project.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Dawn, February 29, March 2, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Steps to solve the Balochistan crisis

As part of the reconciliation process, all cases against Baloch leaders residing outside the country have been withdrawn. They are being encouraged to return to the country and participate in the political process to find a lasting solution to the problem in Balochistan. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani also said that practical steps need to be sought to deal with the problem and instructed the special committee on Balochistan to assist in the return of the Baloch leaders.

President Asif Ali Zardari said that he was willing to meet Baloch leaders and would visit the province soon. “I am willing to talk to my disgruntled Baloch brothers myself,” said Zardari.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Times, February, 24, 25, 2012

Sri Lanka
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">GoSL for sustainable peace

Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, leader of the Sri Lankan delegation, in Geneva at the UNHRC session outlined the initiatives taken by the Government to address issues raised. Addressing the UNHRC session, Samarasinghe invited delegates to visit the country and witness for themselves first-hand the transformation that has taken place in the country.

Ahead of the UNHRC session, External Affairs Minister G L Peiris said that Sri Lanka would prefer the matter being taken up at the Universal Periodic Review in October this year.

According to the UNHRC, the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights record of all 192 UN Member States once every four years.

The UPR is a State-driven process, under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, which provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions it had taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfil their human rights obligations.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror Online, February 26-27, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">US court dismisses suit against Sri Lanka President

A US District court has dismissed a lawsuit against President Mahinda Rajapaksa over alleged war crimes committed during the war, foreign media reported.U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled that she must dismiss the suit against President Mahinda Rajapaksa because the Obama administration says he is immune from the litigation as a foreign Head of State.

"The court does not take this step lightly," Kollar-Kotelly wrote. "The plaintiffs’ complaint contains shocking allegations of human rights abuses and violations of United States and international law. "This court is not in a position to second-guess the Executive’s determination that in this case, the nation’s foreign policy interests will be best served by granting defendant Rajapaksa Head of State immunity while he is in office," Kollar-Kotelly wrote, indicating otherwise that the plaintiffs may have a strong case.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror Online, March 1, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">National head-count begins

The country-wide census began at Temple Trees on February 27, where information on President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his family was collected by enumerators.

The census will be carried out at each household to gather information on each person. It would take place from February 27 to March 19 and again a revision round would be carried out from March 20 and 21.

The department said that it had begun a new e-method of storing system for the purpose for convenience and that it would utilise this system at the next census to collect data on each person instead of appointing enumerators to visit each household. The census funded by the Finance Ministry costs SL Rs.1.7 billion.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror Online, February 27, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">S&P lowers sovereign rating

Rating agency, Standard & Poor (S&P) has revised down its outlook on Sri Lanka’s B+ long term foreign currency sovereign credit rating outlook to stable from positive while lowering the long term local currency rating to B+ from BB-.

According to S&P credit analyst Takashira Ogawa, the outlook revision on the long-term foreign currency rating reflects the country’s deteriorating external liquidity.

"We also lowered the long-term local currency rating to the same level as the foreign currency rating to reflect the country’s lack of track record in having a floating exchange rate regime and its still-developing secondary market for debt instruments" Ogawa said.

The S&P statement also noted that the ratings are constrained by weak external liquidity, moderately high and increasing external debt, fundamental fiscal weaknesses, the attendant high public debt and interest burden, and political institutions that, in some cases, lack transparency and independence.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror Online, February 28, 2012

Afghanistan
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Infiltration in the security forces

A senior Afghan Defence Ministry official said that the security forces faced threats from within. He urged the government to look into the issue of infiltrations immediately or face severe repercussions with the NATO. This came after the incident wherein Afghan military officers gunned down two US military advisors last week. "If we don’t deal with infiltration then Afghanistan will suffer. We will lose credibility with NATO and the rest of the international community," said the official. According to reports close to 70 NATO members were killed by insider attacks in the last five years.

France and Germany pulled their advisors from the interior ministries after the assassination of the US officials.

On another instance, the former US Ambassador, Zalmai Khalilzad, said that Afghanistan officials were not in full capacity to take responsibility of the prisons or carry out independent raids.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Khaama, February 27, 2012; Outlook Afghanistan, March 1, 2012

Bangladesh
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">No water, no transit: Khaleda

Opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP) chief Begum Khaleda Zia said that every deal with India, including transit, corridor and trade, has to be annulled if the neighbouring country does not ensure fair share of common river waters. Khaleda claimed that her party also wants friendly relationship with India but it must be maintained in a reciprocal manner.

Nothing one-sided can persist she added. She made this comments this week at a rally in the northern bordering district of Lalmonirhat. The rally was organised as part of her series of programmes and road marches to drum up support for the restoration of caretaker government system. Khaleda alleged that the Awami League government is giving-everything-to-India which is going against Bangladesh’s interest.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, February 28, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Transit to spin $44m a year

Transport experts have opined that Bangladesh could earn about $44 million a year by providing transit to India and its neighbours over the first five years while developing infrastructure for the facility. Once infrastructure is ready, Bangladesh would annually earn half a billion US dollars from the sixth and $1 billion from the 16th year.

Besides, there would be an investment boost alongside other positive impacts in various sectors. The country would need three to five years to get its transport system in top gear for taking the load of the entire transit traffic.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, February 27, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">20,000 websites by 2015

The Government is planning to launch 20,000 websites by 2015 to take e-service to the masses in efforts to materialise its vision of Digital Bangladesh. The websites will be developed under the National Portal Framework (NPF) in districts, divisions, ministries and directorates with a free web-hosting by the government informed Anir Chowdhury, policy adviser for Access to Information (A2I) at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

The websites will have information on various administrative units of the Government, social safety nets, and disaster warning through the mobile network. These websites will also include documents on land management, and forums for farmers and fisheries workers. The NPF is likely to be launched in July, this year.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, February 27, 2012

Bhutan
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Mangdechhu project challenged

Work on the 720-MW Mangdechhu hydropower project could be delayed since a disqualified bidder has petitioned to the High Court questioning the manner in which the contract was awarded. In a show-cause hearing that the court conducted, counsel of Texmaco Rail & Engineering Limited, a Kolkata-based company, submitted that although the petitioner had complied with all provisions pertaining to tender notice invitation or fulfilled required documents, the Mangdechhu project management disqualified them and refused to open their tender bid. The counsel also added that the by not opening tender of the petitioner, there is room for suspect the management for favouring the other two bidders.

The notice inviting tender for hydro-mechanical and associated works was announced on August 27, 2011. The hydro-mechanical works include fabrication, erection, testing and commissioning of the gates, trash racks cleaning machines and steel liner pressure shaft. The pre-qualification criteria were provided in the tender and the bidding documents were to be issued to bidders fulfilling the eligibility criteria.

Five bidders applied for the works. Two disqualified for inability to meet pre-qualification criteria. Then the project issued bidding documents to three pre-qualified Indian bidders – PES Engineers Private Limited based in Hyderabad, Om Metals Infraprojects Ltd and Texmaco Rail & Engineering Limited on November 11, 2011.As per tender conditions, the bids had to be submitted in a single stage- techno-commercial bid, which contains technical and commercial aspects, and price bid simultaneously.
< class="text11verdana">Source: kuenselonline.com, March 1, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">NIIT launches IT kiosks

Indian IT training and education company NIIT has launched a new initiative called ’Playground Kiosks’ in the hermit kingdom of Bhutan. NIIT will be driving the IT literacy programme by set up 130 touch screens, Playground kiosks in different parts Kingdome The kiosk (computer learning point) will have a satellite dish, a solar panel and will be run by NIIT.

The project aims at reaching out to at least one lakh students, train a few thousand IT professionals, schools and enterprises in the nest couple of years.
< class="text11verdana">Source: thehindubusinessline.com, February 27, 2012

India
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Blunt talks on Iran oil: US

The US is having "very intense and very blunt" conversations with India, China and Turkey on reducing their dependence on Iranian oil, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has told law-makers.

Clinton, testifying before a congressional committee on Tuesday, said the US is asking these countries to take specific measures that would reduce their dependence on Iranian oil adding. But, without naming one, she did acknowledge that this would be a bit tough for some countries.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Times of India, February 29, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Tibet: China told to be in touch with India

A top Chinese Government Advisor has said “good communication” between China and India would be “helpful” in addressing on-going unrest in Tibetan areas, an issue that the Chinese Parliament is set to grapple with as it begins its annual sitting here in a week’s time.

While Indian and Chinese officials have, so far, not discussed the string of self-immolations and protests, with officials citing Beijing’s sensitivities over its “internal affairs”, Zhao Qizheng, Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a top political advisory body, said in response to a question from The Hindu that China would “welcome” communicating with India over the role of overseas groups, which he blamed for orchestrating recent incidents.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, February 25, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Lowest economic growth

India’s economy grew at the slowest pace in more than two years last quarter as domestic demand weakened and the global recovery faltered, adding pressure on the central bank to lower interest rates.

Gross domestic product rose 6.1 percent in the three months through December following the previous quarter’s 6.9 percent climb, the Central Statistical said in a statement in New Delhi today. The median of 29 estimates in a Bloomberg News survey was for a 6.3 percent advance.
< class="text11verdana">Source: bloomberg.com, February 29, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Strike hits economy

Banks closed and bus services were cancelled as millions of Indian Government employees joined a nationwide strike to protest the cost of living and plans to sell stakes in state companies.

While the stoppage shuttered businesses in some states, including Kerala and Punjab, its impact was limited. In West Bengal, where trade unions linked to communist political parties are powerful, normally congested roads were quiet yet Government offices and schools remained open.

The one-day stoppage was called by 11 unions from across the political spectrum, including the Indian National Trade Union Congress that’s affiliated to the ruling Congress party.
< class="text11verdana">Source: bloomberg.com, February 28, 2012

Maldives
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">MDP disrupts Parliament opening

Parliament was cancelled after Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs blocked Speaker Abdulla Shahid from entering the chamber, in protest against the traditional year-opening address that was to be given by President Dr Mohamed Hassan Waheed.

At a news conference later evening, Shahid said he was unable enter the chamber despite several attempts, and on one occasion had fallen and injured himself. Given the current political tensions, Shahid said he was unable to guarantee the safety of members and had decided to proceed through negotiation, rather than force.

In the narrow alleys around Parliament, MDP protesters gathered and put pressure on police lines. The largest demonstration gathered around a group of women, some wearing face masks and goggles, who sat down in front of police at an intersection. The small group of police blocking the street to parliament appeared anxious but tolerant, and the mood was peaceful.
< class="text11verdana">Source:Minivan News, March 1, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Won’t interfere with internal affairs: India

The claims by members of the all-party Roadmap talks that the Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai had put forth an agreement to expedite finalizing a date for early presidential polls has been refuted by Joint Secretary (Maldives) External Affairs Ministry of India Mr. H. V. Shringla.

At a news conference in Male, Shringla stressed that the role of the Indian Government in the current political strife in the country was part of the sustained engagement in the assistance to the Maldives.

Speaking on behalf of the Foreign Secretary, Shringla said that India had merely tried to facilitate dialogue by determining the “lowest common denominator” of the general consensus amongst all political parties to ensure a peaceful resolution to the standoff.

He further noted that the debate pertaining to early elections had already been included in the agenda of the road-map talks and stressed that India’s concern was for the nation as a whole and not partial to the interests of one party.

Shringla categorically denied trying to manipulate the deliberations to steer it towards early elections and underlined that India would not intrude in the internal affairs of the country.

He also stated that in contrast to the earlier visit of Mathai, the Foreign Secretary had held discussions with every interlocutor in the country and revealed that the overall consensus had been to hold early elections to resolve the conflict.

Shringla further added that all the stakeholders had agreed to facilitate an atmosphere to enable such an election, including required legislation from Parliament.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Haveeru Online, February 29, 2012

Myanmar
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Peace deal with Mon insurgents

The Government has signed a preliminary peace agreement with separatists in south-east Mon State. This is the latest in a series of deals with ethnic minority guerrillas.

A delegation led by Railways Minister Aung Min and representative of the New Mon State Party (NMSP) agreed on a ceasefire, which would pave the way for political dialogue while working together on education and healthcare. The government would free imprisoned party men of the NMSP and both sides would also work on avoid forced labour.
< class="text11verdana">Source: straitstimes.com. February 27, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">China for border-stability

China has told Myanmar to better secure their joint border across which thousands of refugees have been fleeing to escape fighting since last year between the Myanmar government and ethnic minority rebels.

A 17-year-old ceasefire with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), one of the Myanmar’s most powerful rebel groups, broke down last June, sending Kachins fleeing to tent settlements in Yunnan province on the other side of the long border with China.

’China ... sincerely hopes Myanmar will find a peaceful way to appropriately resolve problems with ethnic reconciliation and will protect the long-term peace and stability of the China-Myanmar border region,’ the senior official was quoted as saying by the ministry website.
< class="text11verdana">Source: straitstimes.com. February 24, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Search for US War heroes

The US has taken the first step toward resuming the search for the remains of US soldiers lost in Myanmar during World War II. The search was suspended eight years ago but improved US-Myanmar relations have resulted in a senior military official holding talks on the issue in Myanmar this week.

Approximately 730 Americans remain unaccounted for in Myanmar, mostly US air crew that went down in the rugged mountains and deep jungles of country’s north while flying supplies from India to China. The conflict ended in 1945.
< class="text11verdana">Source: straitstimes.com, February 25, 2012

< class="brown12verdana">Contributors:

Afghanistan and Pakistan- Aarya venugopal;
Bhutan and Myanmar: Sripathi Narayan;
Bangladesh:Dr.Joyeeta Bhattacharjee;
India:Dr. Satish Misra;
Nepal: Akanshya Shah;
Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy;

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