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ASEAN leaders to get tougher on terror, trade

Southeast Asian leaders pledge to get tougher on terrorism and move faster to create a single market.

india Updated: Jan 13, 2007 15:34 IST

Southeast Asian leaders pledgedon Saturdayto get tougher on terrorism, move faster to create a single market and work harder to adapt their nations to the demands of the 21st century.

Facing economic pressure from heavyweights China and India, and the twin shadows of terrorism and poverty, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) adopted an ambitious agenda they hope can transform the region.

Following a day of talks at a summit that was postponed last month amid fears of a terror attack, they set a goal of 2015 for a free-trade zone that would cover one-sixth of the planet's population.

"ASEAN is committed to expanding its trade area to create one of the world's greatest trading blocs," said Philippine President Gloria Arroyo, who hosted the gathering in a five-star seaside resort in Cebu.

The leaders also signed their first convention on fighting terrorism, making it easier to track suspects and money across borders, share intelligence information and extradite suspects from one ASEAN country to another.

The nations agreed to cooperate to "counter, prevent and suppress terrorism in all its forms and manifestations".

But perhaps the biggest change is a plan to revamp how this disparate group of nations - run by everything from royal sultans to old-school communist ideologues - will handle its internal diplomacy.

The group signed a commitment to create ASEAN's first-ever charter, aimed at turning the bloc into a European Union-style entity with binding rules and regulations.

First Published: Jan 13, 2007 15:34 IST