SE Asia Nations Open Charter Talks

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo (C) and the foreign ministers from the 10-member countries of ASEAN stand together during the opening ceremony of the 40th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting at the Philippine International Convention Center in Manila 30 July 2007.

Southeast Asian nations opened talks here Monday to thrash out the details of their first-ever charter, trying to smooth out deep differences that remain despite nearly two years of work so far.

With time running out before the 10-nation ASEAN bloc adopts the charter in November, as it looks to aim for full economic integration by 2015, foreign ministers began their annual meeting in Manila looking to finalise the document.

The 40-year-old Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is hoping to transform itself into a rules-based organisation roughly along the lines of the European Union, with norms that all countries adhere to.

The bloc formally committed to the charter at a summit in the Philippines earlier this year, and Philippine President Gloria Arroyo urged fellow members to strike a deal and make the charter a reality.

"Our collective desire to bring social justice, economic opportunity and integrated security to the region is our common ground," she told ASEAN foreign ministers to begin the meeting in the Philippine capital Monday.

"There are no short cuts or quick fixes," she said. "I commend to you the important task of following through on the commitments that we have made."

But the group has been unable to agree on sanctions to punish member states who do not follow the rules, while opposition from Myanmar has scuppered a proposal for a regional human rights commission.

Member states have also battled over whether to abandon their policy of operating on consensus in favour of taking decisions by vote -- a move which would also amount to forcing individual countries to abide by group rules.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam.

Source AFP

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