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Africa-Arab Watchdog Meeting Will Tackle Terror Funding
BEIRUT Sep 23, 2005 (Reuters) - Fourteen Arab countries meet in Beirut next week to introduce new checks to protect their financial systems from abuse in a region that has provided al Qaeda with most of its funds.
In its second plenary meeting on Sept 26-27, the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force will set up a system for member states to review each other's measures to fight money laundering and terrorism financing.
The group will also discuss ways of controlling the informal "hawala" system of cash transfer, charities and cash couriers.
"Participants will discuss core issues including ... mutual evaluation programmes for the anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism financing systems of member states," Lebanon's central bank said in a statement.
Set up by 14 Arab countries in November, the task force is dedicated to implementing world standards to combat the use by al Qaeda and other such groups of the global financial system.
Several Gulf states have already tightened controls over donations, controversial in Muslim societies where charity is a religious obligation, and begun to regulate money transfers.
Muhammad Baasiri, who heads the task force, told Reuters last month that Iraq and Mauritania should be admitted to the regional watchdog at next week's session.
He said Libya, Sudan and other countries had also expressed an interest in joining, while existing members were working to install or strengthen financial intelligence units to detect suspicious cash movements.
Few Arab countries have effective financial intelligence units, which U.S. officials say are essential if they are to prove they are serious about fighting terrorism funding.
So far, only five of the task force members have joined the Egmont Group of global financial intelligence units, which collect, analyse and exchange financial information to help fight money laundering and terrorism financing. Qatar was the latest to come on board in June.
Baasiri said the rotating leadership of the task force would pass at next week's meeting from Lebanon to Egypt.
Officials from the United States, Britain, France and five multilateral organisations including the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and Egmont Group will attend the meeting as observers, the statement said.