Visiting Indian PM To Talk Trade, Flights

Atal Bihari Vajpayee, prime minister of India, is scheduled to arrive in Cambodia today for a three-day visit.

The visit marks the first by a top Indian official since then-President Jawaharlal Nehru visited in the 1960s. The Indian leader will be greeted at the airport at 2:30 pm by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Indian Embassy officials say the visit is intended to strengthen the diplomatic relationship be­tween predominantly Hindu India, the birthplace of the Buddha, and Cambodia, which was a Hindu nation but today is predominately Buddhist.

“Our diplomatic ties are relatively warm, and we have been connected like family since the early days,” said one Indian foreign affairs official who asked that his name not be used.

According to the Press Trust of India, the two countries will sign an accord to lay the groundwork for direct flights between the two countries, with an eye toward opening a route to Siem Reap.

They will also sign an agreement under which India will help renovate Ta Prohm temple in the Angkor Wat complex. Another agreement would exempt visas for diplomatic and official passport holders.

According to the Press Trust, the Cambodian government has made inquiries as to whether Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd would refurbish Cambodia’s MIG-21 fighter jets, which are currently grounded due to lack of parts and maintenance.

Vajpayee will meet with Hun Sen shortly after his arrival for a formal discussion on cultural, tourism, diplomatic and trade issues. That meeting is to be followed by a formal dinner hosted by Hun Sen.

On Wednesday, Vajpayee is scheduled to lay a wreath at the Independence Monument before meeting with King Norodom Sihanouk, Senate President Chea Sim, National Assembly Presi­dent Prince Norodom Ranariddh and members of the Indian community.

On Wednesday night, he will travel to Siem Reap, where he will be the guest of honor at a dinner hosted by Siem Reap Governor Chap Nhalyvoud. On Thursday, he will tour Angkor Wat and the Bayon temple.

Vajpayee, 75, is a former foreign minister and veteran parliamentarian whose career stretches over four decades, including nine terms as a member of the House of the People and two terms in the House of the States. The son of a schoolteacher, he is unmarried.

He first became involved in nationalist politics in 1942 when, as a student of political science and law, he joined the anti-British Quit India movement. He worked as a journalist, but in 1951 left that career to join the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the forerunner of today’s Bharatiya Janata Party.

As a statesman, he has been a strong advocate for liberalism, democracy and women’s equality. He is also an accomplished poet, cook and musician whose favorite sports include hockey and football.

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