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    Asia Experts Discuss Plans for Tsunami Warning Center

    Officials from over 40 countries and a dozen international organizations have started hashing out plans for a tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean. Both Thailand and India are the frontrunners to operate the center.

    The two-day meeting on the Thai island of Phuket began Friday with officials discussing technical requirements. There are hopes the tsunami warning system can be in place by mid-2006.

    Phuket was one of the main regions affected by the December 26th earthquake and tsunami that took the lives of almost 300,000 people across the Indian Ocean.

    The meeting follows a conference in Japan last week when more than 150 nations supported plans to build warning systems and boost global funding for disaster readiness.

    While technical details of setting up the system were at the forefront of talks Friday, the issue of which country would host the central control center was expected to be heavily debated.

    Samith Dharmasaroja, a Thai meteorologist and an adviser to the Thai prime minister, says a decision on the warning center's location may come Saturday, at the end of the meeting.

    Mr. Samith says Thailand has the backing of several governments to be the host country. "Most of the countries (are) supporting Thailand; they want Thailand to be the center of an original early warning," he says. "But as you know we have competitors from India and maybe Indonesia."

    Many experts say that a warning system such as one that operates in the Pacific Ocean could have saved thousands of lives.

    Mr. Samith, whose 1998 warnings that the country was vulnerable to tsunamis were ignored by government officials, says he would be satisfied just to have a regional center established.

    Mr. Samith says he supports a compromise that would have two facilities, one in Thailand and another in India to cover the western side of the Indian Ocean.

    The United Nations is pressing for a quick decision establishing the system, which is expected to cost $30 million. It also may provide warnings of other natural disasters, such as tropical storms and floods.

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