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Staff writerHigh-level officials from nine countries and six international organizations will meet in Tokyo early next month to discuss ways to accelerate the development of the greater Mekong subregion despite the deep Asian economic crisis, Foreign Ministry sources said Monday.The workshop, scheduled for Nov. 4-5, will focus on National Road Route 9, which will link Thailand, Laos and Vietnam to create an “East-West Corridor” on the Indochinese Peninsula.The road project, which is estimated to cost about $150 million and is scheduled to be completed around 2002, will be the first cross-border infrastructure project for which Japan, the world’s largest aid donor, has provided official development assistance.National Road Route 9 is among more than 70 transportation, energy and other infrastructure projects that the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the six Mekong-riparian countries have agreed to promote for the development of the greater Mekong subregion.The Mekong River, the 12th longest in the world at 4,425 km, has attracted much attention as an untapped frontier for development in recent years. Its development is widely believed to hold the key to the development of the war-battered Indochina area as a whole.”Participants in the workshop will discuss what new approaches should be taken to promote the development of the subregion, focusing on the National Road Route 9,” one source said. “That’s because the road project is the most mature, or in the most advanced stage of preparations, among many infrastructure projects planned for the subregion.”Participants in the workshop will also discuss ways to encourage the private sector’s participation in development projects for the greater Mekong subregion because public funds alone will not suffice to finance them.The nine countries participating in the Tokyo workshop will be Japan, Australia and France, as well as the six Mekong-riparian countries: Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar and China. Among the six international organizations taking part are the ADB, the United Nations Development Program, the Mekong River Commission, the World Bank and the secretariat of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.The National Road Route 9 project will link Mukdahan in northeastern Thailand, Savannakhet in southern Laos, and Dong Ha and Da Nang, both in central Vietnam. It will also include a new international bridge across the Mekong River to connect Mukdahan and Savannakhet, and repair work for Da Nang Port.Japan plans to provide official yen loans to Thailand and Laos for the construction of the new Mekong bridge and also plans to extend grant-in-aid for the Laotian portion of the National Road Route 9, among other things, the sources said.In next month’s workshop, Japan wants to discuss the concept of making the East-West Corridor an “economic corridor,” not merely a “transport corridor,” a Foreign Ministry source said. That concept envisages a combination of the pillar road project and various other projects, such as development of human resources and agriculture, that would benefit the subregion, especially Laos, the poorest among the six, the source explained.

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