ASEAN leaders weigh charter, wrangle over Myanmar | india | Hindustan Times
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ASEAN leaders weigh charter, wrangle over Myanmar

ASEAN foreign ministers told Myanmar that it must make greater progress on its roadmap for national reconciliation and democracy.

india Updated: Jan 13, 2007 11:30 IST

Southeast Asian leaders met on Saturday to endorse a blueprint for an economic and political bloc that can compete in a 21st century globalised economy.

They were also expected to have a candid exchange with Myanmar, which escaped censure at the UN Security Council after China and Russia on Friday vetoed a United States resolution calling on the junta to stop persecuting minority and opposition groups.

Earlier this week Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) foreign ministers told Myanmar it must make greater progress on its "roadmap" for national reconciliation and democracy.

Myanmar has exposed splits within a group that has a long tradition of consensus. Some members, especially those from Indochina, say ASEAN should not interfere in Myanmar's domestic affairs; the others say the junta's sorry human rights record is already an international issue.

"ASEAN is pretty divided on the Myanmar issue," one ASEAN official who did not want to be identified told reporters at the Shangri-La hotel where the leaders were meeting.

The 10 leaders, whose members range from an absolute monarchy and military juntas to parliamentary democracies and one-party communist states, have agreed to start drafting a charter that would give ASEAN a legal basis for the first time since it was founded at the height of the Vietnam war nearly 40 years ago.

The charter would give ASEAN, whose combined population of 537 million is greater than the European Union, would include systems to monitor and enforce agreements and panels that could issue binding decisions in disputes.

The most ground-breaking proposal gives ASEAN the power to suspend, or in extreme cases, expel members for serious breaches of the charter.

The new charter proposals could theoretically put Myanmar's membership in jeopardy if the junta continued to put up roadblocks to democracy.

The charter proposals also call for a modification of ASEAN's long-standing principle of non-interference in each other's domestic affairs. This would enable ASEAN to take decisions on transnational issues such as the perennial "haze" that envelops the region from land-clearing forest fires in Indonesia.

The group will still take decisions by consensus for sensitive issues, but will conduct voting over non-controversial issues, according to a summary of the proposals.

Panel chairman and former Philippines president Fidel Ramos said an ASEAN charter would allow the group to compete as a bloc in the "new order" of the 21st century.

At a news conference late on Friday to announce that the leaders had accepted their charter proposals, an ASEAN "Eminent Persons Group" said they had studied the European Union as a reference, but that ASEAN would not become another Brussels.

ASEAN plans to bring forward the establishment of an economic community from 2020 to 2015, according to a draft declaration.

The ASEAN leaders arrived in the central Philippines city of Cebu for a summit that was rescheduled from last month amid typhoon and terrorist warnings.

The Philippines was on high alert after three bombings on Wednesday night, hundreds of miles to the south of the venue, killed eight people and wounded dozens.

ASEAN leaders will also discuss poverty alleviation in countries that have some of the globe's smallest per capita incomes, and disaster prevention in a region that has seen a devastating tsunami, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, forest fires and pandemics over the last couple of years.

Southeast Asian leaders will also sign a counter-terrorism agreement that will clamp down on the movement of arms and fighters between its remote islands through information exchange, border controls and a crackdown on terrorist financing.