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[CAIRO] Muslim countries should set up a US$1 billion fund to give information and communications technologies (ICTs) a greater role in development, said participants at a conference in Malaysia last month.

The proposal was made by the Malaysian Institute of Microelectronic Systems (MIMOS) and approved by delegates at the conference, which was held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) board of governors.

According to the Malaysian news agency Bernama, MIMOS's president, Mohd Azzman Shariffadeen, said the IDB should set up the proposed fund to provide low-interest loans to its 57 member nations.

The fund could be used to apply ICTs to agriculture, education and health in Muslim countries, and reduce the 'digital divide' between them and the West, said Shariffadeen.

He added that, initially, funds should be contributed by the bank's member states and that a meeting would be held to identify additional sources of funding.

Mohamed Baghdadi, director of the IDB science and technology office, told SciDev.Net that the fund would also enable member countries to develop ICT policies to contribute to the knowledge society and economy.

The Knowledge and Information Communication Technology for Development conference also called upon IDB member countries to set up venture capital funding and technology 'incubators' — facilities that advise and support new companies in the ICT sector.

About 350 participants from about 20 IDB member countries and several multilateral agencies attended the conference, which was organised by IDB, the Malaysian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, and MIMOS.

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