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E. Asia Week in Review - 2002-04-12


A U.S. presidential envoy, Jack Pritchard, plans to meet with North Korean officials in New York City next week to discuss making a trip to North Korea. Mr. Pritchard announced the meeting this week in Seoul. There, he held talks with Lim Dong-won, the South Korean envoy who traveled to North Korea last week in a bid to re-start peace talks between the two countries. After his visit, North and South Korea announced their intent to begin a new dialogue. Mr. Lim also relayed North Korea's intentions to renew stalled dialogue with the United States. Mr. Pritchard's visit to North Korea would follow an informal trip there earlier this week by the former U.S. ambassador in Seoul, Donald Gregg.

Beijing and Washington announced this week that Vice President Hu Jintao will visit the United States at the end of this month. The official Chinese Xinhua news agency said Mr. Hu's visit will follow a trip to Malaysia and Singapore. It gave no dates, but Hong Kong's independent media said the vice president will be in the United States from April 26 to May 3. The White House said Mr. Hu, who is the expected successor to China's President Jiang Zemin, will hold official meetings on May first in Washington. U.S. and Chinese officials agreed in principle to his trip during President Bush's visit to China in February. Mr. Hu also will stop in Honolulu, San Francisco and New York.

At least 24 people died and many more were missing in the central Philippines, after a fire on board an inter-island ferry carrying at least 290 passengers and crew. The Philippine coast guard said at least 115 people were rescued from the burning ferry in waters southeast of Manila. Dozens of them were taken to area hospitals. Authorities say the ship had left the island of Masbate and was nearing its destination of Lucena City, when fire broke out in the cargo hold. There is no word yet on the cause of the fire.

Chinese officials this week sharply increased their estimate of the number of people in their country infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. New figures estimate that some 850,000 people were infected with HIV at the end of last year. That is 40 percent higher than the previous government estimate. Officials also speculated that there may have been as many as 200,000 cases of AIDS last year. These new estimates differ from the number of confirmed HIV infections in China - about 31,000. Only about 1,600 AIDS cases have been confirmed.

The United Nations World Food Program this week said North Korea could run out of food aid in a matter of months, unless more donations are made. Warning of a major food crisis, the U.N. agency's Asia bureau director, John Powell, called for 368,000 tons of emergency food aid for North Korea. He told reporters in Beijing that a shortage in aid has increased the risk of malnutrition for more than six million of the country's most vulnerable people - children, pregnant women and the elderly. He said without further contributions, food aid could run out in July or August. The agency has received only one-quarter of its food aid request for North Korea for this year.

A local government in Japan this week signed an agreement with the U.S. Navy to receive compensation for last year's accidental sinking of a Japanese fishing boat by an American submarine. A U.S. official in Tokyo said the agreement clears the way for more than $11 million to be paid to the government of the southwestern province of Ehime, where the ill-fated Japanese vessel was based. Nine people aboard the vessel, Ehime Maru, died when the USS Greeneville surfaced beneath the fishing trawler and sank it. The accident occurred in February of 2001 off Hawaii. Reports say that separate compensation talks are under way between the Navy and families of the nine victims.

India this week offered to provide judges for the possible war crimes trials in Cambodia of former Khmer Rouge leaders. The offer was made by Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee during a three-day visit to Phnom Penh. The United Nations had been helping set up the tribunal, but withdrew from talks on the issue because of concerns that Cambodian authorities would not allow free and fair proceedings. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen says Cambodia will conduct its own trials if talks with the United Nations remain stalled. Prime Minister Vajpayee said India would be willing to provide some of the judges if Cambodian officials cannot reach an agreement with the United Nations.

And, Thailand's foreign minister this week said Burma and Thailand have agreed to repatriate thousands of illegal Burmese laborers who currently live in Thailand. But Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai told the British media that the workers must be tested for HIV before they can return to their homeland. He said those who test positive for HIV will be returned separately from those with a clean bill of health. Burma and Thailand reached the agreement during a meeting in Rangoon last week. More than 500,000 illegal Burmese workers are believed to be living in Thailand.

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