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APEC Ministerial Meeting Opens to Discuss Trade, Anti-terrorism

Ministers from the 21 members of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum started their two-day meeting in Bangkok  Friday morning in a bid to finalize agenda for the upcoming APEC Economic Leaders Meeting.

The first-day session of the 15th APEC ministerial meeting, held in the Thai Foreign Ministry amid tight security following the conclusion of APEC Senior Officials' Meeting (SOM) on Wednesday, was presided over by Thai Foreign Minister Surakiat Sathirathai.

The ministerial meeting is expected to be dominated by issues of multilateral trade talks, economic cooperation and counter-terrorism.

The ministers will discuss a wide range of proposals agreed on by the SOM, which prepared the agenda for the ministerial and leaders' meeting. The SOM focused on efforts to revive the Doha Round of World Trade Organization (WTO) talks and strengthen the combat against terrorism.

The SOM agreed on the increasing importance for APEC economies to work together to coordinate and play a role to advance the Doha Round multilateral trade talks, which should be concluded by the end of this year but failed to make breakthrough at last month's WTO ministerial conference in Cancun, Mexico.

The SOM approved a counter-terrorism action plan and discussed a US proposal to suppress production, shipment and sales of shoulder-mounted man-portable air defense systems.

The SOM also proposed setting up a mechanism to coordinate efforts by public health authorities of APEC economies to deal with the spread of epidemics such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

The ministerial meeting will finalize the agenda for the informal leaders' meeting, scheduled for Oct. 20-21.

The APEC annual meetings come one year after the deadly terror attack carried out by Southeast Asian militant group Jemaah Islamiah (JI) on the Indonesian island of Bali on Oct. 12, which killed 202 people, mostly foreigners.

As the informal leaders' meeting approaches, security has been tightened with the massive police presence around hotels and meeting venues.

Helicopters have been hovering overhead since Thursday morning. Traffic on major roads has been limited, with oil tankers still being barred from entering downtown. The areas around the Foreign Ministry and the APEC press center at Queen Sirikit National Convention Center have been virtually sealed off, with access only for vehicles with special permits.

Bangkok is enjoying lighter traffic these days, which was said to have been agonized by frequent jams. Residents have been given special holidays, spanning from Friday until next Tuesday when the APEC leaders' meeting concludes.

Security has been a major concern for this year's APEC meetings, especially following the arrest in Thailand in August of Hambali, the alleged operations chief of JI, who reportedly told interrogators that he had been planning attacks in Thailand during the informal APEC leaders' meeting.

Local reports said that a total of 20,000 police and troops are to be deployed to provide security for the meetings.

The APEC was set up in 1989 in response to the growing interdependence among Asia-Pacific economies and to the need to advance Asia-Pacific economic dynamism and sense of community.

It now groups Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Chinese Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.

(Xinhua News Agency October 17, 2003)

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