Japan will provide Egypt with about 12 billion yen in grant-in-aid to help the Middle East nation build a bridge across the Suez Canal as part of its efforts to develop the Sinai Peninsula, government officials said April 15.

The aid provision for the bridge project, which Tokyo hopes will become a symbol of Japan’s contributions to peace and economic development in the Middle East, will be formally approved at a regular Cabinet meeting on April 25, the officials said, requesting anonymity. Following the Cabinet’s approval, Tokyo and Cairo will exchange notes on Japan’s contribution to the project in May, enabling actual construction work to begin as early as this summer, the officials said.

The 12 billion yen in Japanese grant-in-aid will account for 60 percent of the total cost of the project, which is estimated at $160 million — or about 20 billion yen at the current exchange rate. The remaining 8 billion yen will be shouldered by the Egyptian government.

The 4-km-long Suez Canal bridge, which is scheduled to be completed in early 2001, will link the northeast region of Cairo with the Sinai Peninsula. The peninsula, which was occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War, was returned to Egypt in 1982, nearly three years after the two countries singed the peace treaty in 1979 to formally end more than three decades of hostilities. The treaty was based on the Camp David agreement of the preceding year.

Cairo has told Tokyo that the Sinai Peninsula is a promising tourist destination and that the planned bridge across the Suez Canal is needed because progress in the Middle East peace process will lead to an increase in the number of visitors to the region. In addition to tourism, the Egyptian government gives high priority to the development of irrigation cultivation in the northern part of the peninsula through water supplies from the Nile River as well as to the development of mining and manufacturing in the southern part of the peninsula.

Through development of those three key areas, the Egyptian government has set a target of increasing the population on the peninsula to 3.2 million in 2017 from about 300,000 at present. The Egyptian government is promoting the development of the Sinai Peninsula as a means of absorbing the rapid growth of the nation’s population and curbing the decrease of farm land due to urbanization in riparian areas along the Nile.

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