07/25/2005, 00.00
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Myanmar might forgo ASEAN chairmanship

Myanmar Foreign Minister indicates his country willingness to compromise on eve of ASEAN meeting. International terrorism is also on the table.

Vientiane (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) plus more than a dozen other governments with interests in the region—like the US, Russia, China, the European Union, Japan, India, Canada, Pakistan—are to begin meetings in the Lao capital of Vientiane today, leading up to Friday's ASEAN Regional Forum on security.

ASEAN's chairmanship, Australia's possible embrace of a regional non-aggression pact and the world after the London and Egypt bombings are among the main issues on the table.

Under ASEAN's rules, Myanmar is supposed to take over the Association's chairmanship, but the US and EU—both critical of Myanmar's military junta for its human rights violations—have threatened to boycott its meetings should that happen.

Notwithstanding ASEAN's hands-off approach to its members' internal affairs, other member states have called on Yangôn to free Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of Myanmar's pro-democracy opposition and Nobel Prize winner, and end her house arrest.

Many analysts expect ASEAN's foreign ministers to take a hard-line against Myanmar including demands for social and democratic reforms. Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand are pushing Myanmar to adhere to ASEAN's charter.

"We do not want to have our friends in a very difficult position," Myanmar Foreign Ministry official Thaung Tun said yesterday, suggesting that Myanmar would step aside but declining to confirm it.

Australia, meanwhile, was set to embrace a regional non-aggression pact, reversing long-standing opposition after Asian neighbours made the accord a prerequisite for attending a summit in December aimed at moving towards a large, EU-style, East Asian trade bloc.

Australia had long refused to join, calling the agreement a cold war relic that could interfere with its 54-year-old defence pact with the US.

But Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said yesterday that he hoped to resolve concerns over the treaty in coming days.

A draft conference statement said Australia would sign a declaration of intent to join the treaty before Friday.

New Zealand and Mongolia were expected to add their signatures to ASEAN's non-aggression pact, which the bloc has also signed with China, Russia, Japan, India and Pakistan.

Laos has taken exceptional security measures to protect the conference: soldiers in armoured cars at street intersections and along the main road towards the nearby Mekong River separating the country from Thailand; bus controls with passenger and luggage searches.

Forum officials said yesterday they were working on a statement about sharing intelligence to better combat international terrorism.

"The recent bombings in London and Egypt are a reminder that this sort of thing can take place at any time and any place," Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa said. (PB)

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