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Deiss meets king of Bhutan

Deiss is the first Swiss minister to have travelled to Bhutan

(Keystone)

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, has met the Bhutanese king, Jigme Singye Wankchuk, for talks focusing on Swiss development aid to the Himalayan country.

Deiss said the "very high level" discussion with the monarch had also addressed issues such as human rights and national security in the nation, in light of recent incursions by Indian separatist groups in southern regions.

The meeting comes during the second day of Deiss' stay in Bhutan, which is the third stop of his week-long tour through South-East Asia.

On Friday, Deiss met his Bhutanese counterpart, Jigmi Yoeser Thinley, and the prime minister, Khandu Wangchuk, and pledged his commitment to forging closer bilateral ties between the two countries.

Deiss signed an agreement under which Switzerland will contribute SFr7 million for upgrading the national teaching centre in the town of Paro. Switzerland took part in the building of the centre in the 90s.

Death penalty

During Deiss' visit to Pakistan, his talks focused on the death penalty in the country as well as other strict regulations under Islamic law.

Deiss left for Bhutan convinced that the Pakistani president, General Pervez Musharraf, was leading his people towards a modern democracy.

Pakistan is to stage a referendum at the end of the month to decide whether Musharraf should be allowed to stay in power.

"We feel that Pakistan is moving progressively towards a return to democratic principles," he said, following a series of high-level meetings in Islamabad.

Ahead of his visit to the region, Deiss promised that Switzerland would reconsider its development aid cooperation with the country after the next elections in Pakistan.

In the wake of the nuclear test carried out by Pakistan and India in 1998 Switzerland stopped its aid to both governments. Instead the money went towards projects of non-governmental organisations in those countries.

In addition, the amount of aid to Pakistan was frozen at a level of SFr15 million ($9 million) per year

The main focus of the Swiss aid to Pakistan is to combat poverty by supporting projects in education and environment, as well as promoting human rights.

Extra funds for Afghanistan

Deiss arrived in Pakistan after a brief visit to neighbouring Afghanistan on Wednesday, where he pledged additional funds for war-torn country.

He announced an additional SFr1 million in humanitarian aid, a pledge welcomed by the interim government in Kabul.

The Swiss government has already this year earmarked SFr20 million for specific humanitarian and development projects in the country.

Deiss also held talks with the Minister for Women's Affairs, Sima Samar, and the president of the Loya Jirga commission which is due to convene in June to select the country's new government.


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