Malaysia to negotiate FTA with GCC; PM Badawi visits Jakarta and Kuwait; Indonesia and Bangladesh sign agreement to fight money laundering; Thai PM faces no-confidence motion; Thai PM calls on US and Europe to fight protectionism
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  • Reports noted that Malaysia has will initiate negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries in order to boost bilateral economic ties between the two parties1. Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi went to Jakarta on a two-day visit starting from March 16. Badawi met Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and discussed issues of mutual interest. After the Indonesian leg of his foreign tour, Badawi went to Kuwait on March 22. Among other issues, ways to boost the bilateral economic ties between the two countries would be discussed during meetings with his Kuwaiti counterpart Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammed al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah.

    In Indonesia meanwhile, questions were being raised over the credibility of the upcoming elections in April following allegations of a large number of fraud cases during the recent East Java gubernatorial elections2. Indonesia and Bangladesh have signed an agreement to cooperate in fighting money laundering. Both the parties have pledged to exchange necessary information and offer assistance in preventing money laundering3.

    Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva faced a no-confidence motion on March 19 filed by the opposition Puea Thai party on charges of corruption, mismanagement and incompetence. Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya also became the primary target of the no-confidence motion, due to his alleged involvement in the occupation of Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports by the People’s Alliance of Democracy late last year4. Thailand meanwhile posted its biggest trade surplus after eighteen years. The declining demand of goods due to the global financial crisis was cited as the primary factor behind this development5. Thai Prime Minister Abhisit meanwhile has called on the leaders of the US and Europe to take a tough stance against protectionism in order to deal with the ongoing economic crisis6.

    Myanmar’s Ambassador to the UN, Wunna Maung Lwin has once again denied charges that political prisoners were being held in his country. During the 10th session of the Human Rights Council held in Geneva, Lwin denied the report of UN Special Envoy on Human Rights, Tomas Ojea Quintana that noted that over 2000 political prisoners continue to suffer in prisons across Myanmar7. France’s Junior Minister for Human Rights visited a Karenni refugee camp in Burma along with Thai Foreign Minister and representatives from NGOs. Their visit was expected to speed up the delivery of relief measures to the camp, efforts which were hurt in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis8. Reports also noted the increasingly difficult situation in the Karen region, with residents being forced to provide food for the soldiers of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) as well as work as human minesweepers, guides and porters9. In other developments, reports noted that around eleven Burmese Army Battalions have been deployed along the Burma-Bangladesh border to begin construction of a barbed wire fence, as part of efforts to check the movement of the Rohingya minorities10.