- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 26, 2000

Thailand recovering

The deputy foreign minister of Thailand came to Washington with one important message: The country where the Asian economic crisis began three years ago is recovering well.

Sukhumbhand Paribatra recalled the many trips he made here in 1997 and 1998 "during the deepest depths of the economic crisis in Southeast Asia."

Now, he said, "things have improved considerably" and there "have been many, many positive developments."

Mr. Paribatra, speaking yesterday at the National Press Club, said Thailand prepared itself for the worst when its currency collapsed in May 1997 and threw the entire region into a crisis.

"I think we had to face the stark reality that the financial crisis and economic crisis would hit us very hard, and that perhaps these crises would prove very, very prolonged," he said.

Thailand has nearly replenished its foreign exchange reserve, which plunged to $800 million in November 1997. It stands now at $31.2 billion.

The economy contracted 10.2 percent in 1998. Last year, it expanded by 4.2 percent.

"This year we're hoping to achieve a 5 percent-plus growth rate … that is, of course, if the price of oil does not rise above $36 per barrel for the rest of the year. That would have an impact of about 1 percent upon our [gross domestic product]," Mr. Paribatra said.

"We also made a dramatic turnaround where exports are concerned," he added.

Two years ago, exports fell by nearly 7 percent, but they grew by 7.2 percent last year.

Thailand also cut its foreign debt to $86.2 billion last year from a high of $93.4 billion in 1997.

Mr. Paribatra said those figures show Thailand has finally graduated from the "school of iron discipline" of the International Monetary Fund, which helped fund a $17.2 billion rescue package for Thailand.

"In September this year," he added, "we are starting to pay back the IMF loan."

Friend of Sierra Leone

Eight civilian victims of the war in Sierra Leone will appear today before a congressional committee to show the depth of the brutality of the conflict in that desperate West African nation.

Sierra Leonean Ambassador John Leigh will accompany the two adults and six children to the meeting with members of the House International Relations Committee at 9 a.m. in Room 2172 of the Rayburn House Office Building.

Rep. Ed Royce, California Republican, will host the meeting in his capacity as chairman of the Africa subcommittee.

Each victim has suffered from some form of mutilation, including the amputation of arms or legs, by rebels fighting for control of the country's diamond regions, according to the Friends of Sierra Leone and the Capitol Hill Friends of Sierra Leone, which organized the meeting.

"The conflict in Sierra Leone has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people and has introduced a new form of terrorism, the purposeful cutting off and mutilation of limbs of children. We hope this meeting will bring more clearly into focus the horrific tragedy of this war," the groups said in a statement.

The victims will later be flown to New York where Matthew Mirones, president of a prosthetics company, has arranged for them to receive artificial limbs through a volunteer organization called the Gift of Limbs Project.

Keeping Czech heritage

Czech Ambassador Alexandr Vondra loved what he saw on his summer travels as he visited Czech-Americans celebrating their culture.

At a festival in the town of Wilber, Neb., 20,000 youths gathered to elect Miss Czech-America. They danced to rock 'n' roll music, as well as the polka, and attended Mass at St. Wenceslas Church on Sunday.

"Clearly Czech presence in America is not a thing of the past," Mr. Vondra wrote in the latest Czech Embassy newsletter.

"An increasing number of young Czechs come to the U.S. to study and to work. They are capable, learn fast and are unburdened by the past.

"There is also a large number of young Americans who are interested in our country. Some of them are embracing their Czech heritage… .

"The dialogue of these young people represents the future of Czech-American relations."

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