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Fri, Nov 09, 2001 - Page 18 News List

Trade meet likely to go off without a hitch

SECURITY Officials are confident that Qatar has taken sufficient safety measures, but Taiwan's delegation is making some preparations of its own just in case

By Richard Dobson  /  STAFF REPORTER

Although a tempting target for those who rail against Western interventionism, the fourth ministerial meeting of the WTO which begins today in the Gulf state of Qatar appears likely to pass without serious incident, according to analysts and officials.

Fears among trade representatives that supporters of Osama bin Laden might target the meeting increased after the US began retaliatory strikes against Afghanistan. Bin Laden is the suspected mastermind behind the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

On Wednesday security concerns intensified when a lone Qatari gunman fired on a US military base south of Doha in what local officials said was an isolated incident. US military personnel returned fire, killing the man.

Late last month when WTO chief Mike Moore visited the Muslim state to check on preparations, he said he was "fully confident with the planning and preparations," and that "Qatar has the [necessary] operational capacity and we're going ahead."

The Qatari government has said that all precautions have been taken and that their state is one of the most stable in the region.

"We will ensure the security of everyone taking part and we have the means to do so," said organizing committee spokesman Sheikh Abdullah bin Ahmed Al Thani according to a report in Qatar's English-language daily, The Peninisular.

In a move to beef up defense against would-be terrorists, Qatari authorities stopped issuing visas to the country on Oct. 15 and will not resume again until Nov. 15.

While it is rumored that Qatar was chosen because of its tough security laws and relative inaccessibility in the hopes of preventing a Seattle-like debacle -- where anti-globalization protesters virtually razed a WTO ministerial meeting in 1999 -- some outside dissent will be permitted.

Qatar has said that peaceful protests will be allowed and a Greenpeace ship has been given permission to anchor in the harbor.

Lin Sheng-chung (林勝忠), Taiwan's chief representative at the WTO in Geneva, shrugs off fears about security but did concede that "there is a possibility that as the war against the Taliban intensifies or expands it could threaten the security of the participants at the meeting."

According to Steve Chen (陳瑞隆), vice minister of economic affairs, the 32-person delegation from Taiwan will take antibiotics with them to be taken in the event that they are exposed to anthrax. Chen said the delegation would also inquire as to the possibility of obtaining gas masks from the Ministry of National Defense.

Despite taking precautions, however, Chen said he wasn't too concerned about security for the meeting, saying he was satisfied with the security preparations by Qatari authorities.

Others said that although the meeting could be a prime target for terrorists, Middle Eastern states -- already wary about their own fundamentalist movements -- are generally highly vigilant when it comes to the security of large meetings.

"Many of these states have concerns about their own domestic Islamic fundamentalist groups and have a heightened sense of security about any meetings whether they be international or regional," said Kevin O'brien, senior policy analyst at the European office of the Rand Corporation, a US think tank.

According to Jeremy Binnie, Middle East editor for Jane's Sentinel Security Assesments, striking a civilian target on "Arab soil could be counter productive because ... [it] might cost him support in the Arab world."

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