MC: Burma has ratified the Association of Southeast Asian Nations
charter that includes key principles on human rights, despite criticism
about Burma's continued detention of hundreds of political prisoners,
including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. As Ron Corben reports from
VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau, Burma's ratification came during the
opening day of talks of ASEAN foreign ministers meeting in Singapore.
The charter, agreed to by the 10-member ASEAN in November last year, commits Southeast Asian Nations to principles of democracy and human rights.
Once in place, it will set down common rules for negotiations in trade, investment, environment and other fields, with the aim of turning the region into a free-trade zone by 2015.
Opening the ministerial meeting, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the charter provides a framework to improve agreement implementation which he concedes had been "patchy". Just 30 percent of ASEAN agreements have been honored.
Burma's ratification came amid criticism from other ASEAN countries, including the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand, which have held back from ratification until Burma improves its human rights record. Of special concern is the continued detention of opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
But Mr. Lee says ASEAN will press ahead, despite the stance taken by countries to refuse to ratify the charter.
"The timely ratification and implementation of the charter will, itself, be a signal of ASEAN's resolve. However, the pace of ASEAN integration should not be set by the slowest members or else all will be held back by the problems of the few. Hence, ASEAN has decided to press on with the charter's implementation without waiting for 10 members to ratify.
In an earlier rebuke of Burma, the foreign ministers issued a statement expressing "deep disappointment" that the military government has extended Aung San Suu Kyi's detention a further six months.
In his opening address, Mr. Lee backed ASEAN's brokered tripartite agreement between ASEAN, Burma and the United Nations after a devastating cyclone in May left more than 130-thousand people dead or missing. The agreement enabled more foreign aid to flow into the hardest hit areas. He says the tripartite outcome has been "a positive one".
The ASEAN foreign minister's meeting comes amid rising tensions between Thailand and Cambodia in a cross border dispute about territory surrounding Khmer temple built more than 900 years ago. Altogether some five thousand troops have been positioned in the area, in a rapid build up of forces in recent days.
Mr. Lee says the foreign ministers have sought reassurances from Thailand and Cambodia that they would "exercise utmost restraint" to resolve the issue. Thai and Cambodian military and officials met Monday in an effort to ease tensions on the border.
To hear this report in Lao, click on our audio files above.