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Thursday, September 17, 1998 Published at 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK


Queen arrives in Brunei

The Queen and her host the Sultan share a carriage shortly after she arrived

The Queen has arrived in the oil-rich sultanate of Brunei.

Nicholas Witchell in Brunei: A more modern royal visit
The Royal party's chartered British Airways 777 jet touched down at Brunei International Airport on time and was met by Crown Prince Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah.

She is accompanied on the trip by her husband the Duke of Edinburgh and Foreign Secretary Robin Cook.

For the first time, Mr Cook has taken a media spokesman with him on a royal visit.

[ image: The Sultan spoke to the welcoming ceremony]
The Sultan spoke to the welcoming ceremony
The move follows the coverage of the last royal overseas tours of Pakistan and India.

The airport arrival was low-key before the Queen was driven in a 30-vehicle motorcade to the Sultan's palace for a full ceremonial welcome.

Mr Cook, who is also taking his wife and former secretary Gaynor with him for her first royal excursion, was at the centre of a political row over Kashmir during last October's visits.

The BBC's Clarence Mitchell reports on the Royal visit
Buckingham Palace has stressed that during this visit the Queen will follow the example of Diana, Princess of Wales, by meeting ordinary people as well as the country's leaders.

Trading between the UK and Brunei is worth £900m a year and the Queen will spend three days renewing Britain's close links with the country, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh.

[ image: Prince Jefri has been called the 'Profligate Prince']
Prince Jefri has been called the 'Profligate Prince'

But the Sultan will be acutely aware of the scandal involving the Brunei royal family, high living and missing money.

The Queen will meet nearly all Brunei's royal family. But the Sultan's brother, Prince Jefri, will not be present. He has disappeared - as has several billion pounds.

Brunei is reeling from a crisis involving the collapse of its largest private company, owned by Prince Jefri, who has recently been involved in several other scandals.

[ image: The collapse of the Amedeo Development Corp. has left huge buildings half completed]
The collapse of the Amedeo Development Corp. has left huge buildings half completed
Brits pull out

The Sultan will not want to draw attention to the fact that almost 2,000 Britons, the bulk of the ex-pat work force in the country, are said to have left the country to be replaced by an army of accountants from British contractors who are thought to be owed hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Brunei has been hit by Asia's economic crisis and a fall into world price of oil.

The Sultan is no longer the world's richest man and with the country's oil reserves beginning to dry up there are worries about how will the country cope when the oil has gone.

Asked if there was a rift in the royal family, the Sultan's brother, Prince Mohamed, said: "If there has been any wrong-doing, those responsible will be held accountable."

'No fair weather friend'

Nevertheless, although internal crises threaten to overshadow the Queen's visit, she can expect to be met with characteristic extravagance.

[ image: Robin Cook: Reports of trouble in India]
Robin Cook: Reports of trouble in India
Prince Mohamed said the Queen could expect a warm welcome when she arrives.

"Everyone is very much looking forward to the Queen's visit. She's not been here since 1972 and we have a special relationship with Britain.

"Relations between Brunei and Britain are not only historical but also very close on a personal basis between the two royal families."

A Palace spokesman said: "We want to show how much we value links at a time of economic difficulties and how Britain is no fair-weather friend."


A wide range of guests are being invited to receptions and the itinerary includes trips to a Malay water village, a health centre, a school, and a fruit and vegetable market.

The couple will also take tea with 70 to 80 eminent professional Brunei women, as well as visiting the Jame 'Asr Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque.

There the Queen will cover her head and remove her shoes in respect of Islam.

There will be formal state occasions, like the lavish banquet at the Istana Nurul Iman, said to be the world's biggest palace, which is larger than Buckingham Palace and the Vatican put together.

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17 Sep 98†|†Asia-Pacific
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