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Deiss in Thailand at start of east Asia tour

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, is in Thailand at the start of a tour of Asian countries - two of which, the Philippines and Bangladesh, have not been visited before by a Swiss foreign minister.

The main issues due to be covered on his eight-day tour are ways of strengthening political ties, as well as commercial links and development aid.

Deiss starts his trip in Thailand, where he is holding talks in with King Bhumibol and the prime minister, Chuan Leekpai.

During his talks with his Thai counterpart, Surin Pitsuan, Deiss is expected to press Thailand to do more to combat landmines and the use of children as soldiers.

Among the other issues likely to be raised is the situation in Myanmar, and associated refugee and drug problems, said a Swiss foreign ministry spokesman.

Switzerland, among other countries, recently tightened sanctions against the military government in Myanmar.

Deiss’ visit to Thailand is the first by a Swiss foreign minister since 1974.

On the next stage of his tour in the Philippines, economic ties are expected to be to the fore. An accord on double taxation between the two countries is to be signed.

Deiss is also expected to discuss the conflict between the government and Moslem rebels in the southern Philippines.

Deiss’s visit to Bangladesh is expected to focus on development aid. Switzerland has spent about SFr400 million on development aid projects in the country since 1975. It is one of the main recipients of aid from the Swiss Development Agency.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR