Kono reaches deal with Singapore to launch East Timor aid program

Kyodo

Japan and Singapore agreed Saturday to launch a joint program to help East Timor develop its human resources, while reaffirming their political commitment to proceed with a feasibility study on a bilateral free-trade agreement.

Foreign Minister Yohei Kono reached the agreement during separate meetings with Singaporean Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and Foreign Minister Shanmugam Jayakumar, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official told reporters.

On North Korea, Jayakumar expressed his support for its recent bid to join the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum (ARF) but cautioned that it would be difficult to let North Korea in should it set any conditions, the official said.

Kono did not make any specific comments. But he earlier said Japan would welcome North Korea’s appearance in multilateral forums as contributing to peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.

ASEAN forms the core of the ARF, which has 22 participants — the 10 ASEAN members plus Australia, Canada, China, the European Union, India, Japan, South Korea, Mongolia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Russia and the United States.

Also discussed at the talks was the July 21-23 Group of Eight summit in Okinawa Prefecture, with Kono detailing Japan’s major agenda items and promising to have Asian views reflected at the summit, the official said.

Kono arrived in Singapore early Saturday, kicking off a five-day tour that also takes him to Indonesia and East Timor.

The official said Kono proposed holding Japan-funded training sessions in Singapore for East Timorese people, and both Goh and Jayakumar agreed to the proposal.

Japan and Singapore still need to work out details of the joint program on East Timor, but it will involve training public servants and police as well as providing English lessons for future diplomats, the official said.

Police training will focus on the Japanese “koban” police box system, he said. Singapore has also adopted the system.

On the free-trade agreement, Kono stressed the need to make “a political decision at the final stage” over whether to actually conclude the accord, the official said.

The Singaporean government said in a statement that Goh expressed his hope the two governments will step up efforts to successfully complete the study.

The study group, comprising government officials, academics and industry representatives, has already agreed to complete its work before December in a bid to realize the launch of formal negotiations.

Indonesia to get loans

JAKARTA (Kyodo) Foreign Minister Yohei Kono on Saturday pledged to extend special loans and grants to Indonesia and provide financial aid to refugees in the strife-torn Maluku Islands.

Kono, who flew in from Singapore earlier in the day, conveyed the commitments during a 45-minute meeting with Indonesian Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said.

Kono and Shihab exchanged diplomatic notes on Japan extending 113 million yen in grants-in-aid for rehabilitating Way Kambas National Park, which was destroyed by a forest fire, the official said.

Kono also promised to consider and implement as early as possible special yen-denominated loans to Indonesia, the official said.

Shihab extended his appreciation for the loans, which are expected to finance two projects — building natural gas pipelines and improving railways, the official said.

The special loans were established in 1998 to help Asian countries recover from the region’s financial crisis. Japan has so far extended such credits to Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Kono told Shihab that Indonesia must proceed with economic reforms by following conditions set down by the International Monetary Fund in disbursing its suspended credit to Jakarta, the official said.

The official said Kono also conveyed Japan’s decision to contribute some $1 million to the U.N. World Food Program; U.N. humanitarian agencies in March issued an emergency international appeal for $14 million for helping refugees from the sectarian strife in the Maluku Islands.

Kono said the aid is part of Japan’s efforts to support the “integrity” of Indonesia in relation to separatist activities in Aceh and other territories, the official said.

Prior to his scheduled visit on Sunday to East Timor, which recently won independence from Indonesia, Kono said he intends to announce two major initiatives, including assisting East Timorese to study in Indonesia.

Shihab told Kono that East Timorese leaders have expressed appreciation for Japan’s assistance, which they see as “essential” for development, the official said.