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PM, Blair for representative government in Iraq soon

By Amit Baruah

Cadres of the Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) laying down arms in Kokrajhar district of lower Assam on Saturday. — Photo: Ritu Raj Konwar

ABUJA (NIGERIA) DEC. 6. The Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and his British counterpart, Tony Blair, agreed today that there should be early formation of a representative government in Iraq.

During a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Commonwealth summit, the two leaders also agreed that there should be active involvement of the United Nations in Iraq, which would help in stabilising the security situation there.

Briefing presspersons on the meeting, the Indian High Commissioner to Britain, Ronen Sen, said the possibility of Indian troops being sent to Iraq was not discussed at the meeting between the two Prime Ministers today. The British, Mr. Sen maintained, were aware of the Indian Government's position on the issue.

Congratulating Mr. Vajpayee on his latest peace initiative with Pakistan, Mr. Blair strongly condemned terrorism, reiterating the British position that there could be no justification for terrorism. Mr. Blair expressed warm appreciation and support for the Prime Minister's "peace initiative."

The two sides also discussed the current situation in West Asia and agreed that the issues in the region should be addressed. Both leaders felt that a way out of the current impasse in West Asia should be found.

According to Mr. Sen, Zimbabwe only figured briefly in the bilateral discussions between Mr. Vajpayee and Mr. Blair. The British leader was quoted as telling the Prime Minister that relations between the two countries had never been better.

Mr. Blair also said that his "special envoy," Nigel Sheinweld, would be visiting New Delhi next month for talks with the National Security Adviser, Brajesh Mishra.

On Saturday, the Prime Minister held a bilateral meeting with the President of Ghana, John Kufour, and explained to him the Parliamentary commitments that had led to the cancellation of his Ghana visit (December 8-10). He promised to pay a visit to Ghana soon.

Separately, a six-member "contact group" (which includes India) set up on Friday to achieve a consensus on the divisive issue of Zimbabwe, continued its deliberations today, the Foreign Secretary, Shashank, told presspersons this evening. The External Affairs Minister, Yashwant Sinha, is representing India at the discussions.

Asked what was India's position on Zimbabwe, Mr. Shashank maintained that the Harare Declaration and the Millbrook action programme, which dealt with non-democratic regimes, should be applied to Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Fiji and the Solomon Islands.

He was clear that the views of how African countries looked at the question of Zimbabwe would have to be taken into account by the "contact group" that is likely to continue its discussions on Sunday as well. It is likely to report to the executive session of the summit scheduled for Monday. To a question on how India had voted in the election of the Commonwealth Secretary-General on Saturday evening, Mr. Shashank said that when the current incumbent, Don McKinnon, had visited New Delhi, India had extended support to him.

"There was no other candidate at that time," he said, referring to the former Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar, who received 11 votes as opposed to 40 by Mr. McKinnon in Saturday's election.

Mr. Shashank said this was the first time that voting figures were given out by the Commonwealth. On his part, Mr. Sen said that usually, the election to the Secretary-General's post took place by consensus with one side being persuaded to "withdraw."

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