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NEWS UPDATES 21 July 2010

North Korea, Myanmar dominate ASEAN meet

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The sinking of a South Korean warship and elections in military-ruled Myanmar dominated a meeting of Southeast Asian foreign ministers in Vietnam on Tuesday, ahead of a regional security forum.

Ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) met in Hanoi ahead of the region's main security dialogue on Friday, which also gathers major powers including China, the United States and the European Union.

ASEAN chief Surin Pitsuwan said Myanmar's ruling military "got an "earful" of criticism from his regional colleagues about the need for elections scheduled later this year, the first in 20 years, to be fair and credible.

A draft Asean statement also said the 10 member states supported a nuclear-free Korean peninsula and urged a resumption of six-party disarmament talks "as soon as possible", following the sinking of the warship in March.

It said the six-party talks involving North and South Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia were still the "main platform to achieve long-lasting peace and stability", according to AFP.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-Chun will attend the 27-member ARF meeting alongside their counterparts from the six-party process.

It will be the first time the top diplomats from the disarmament dialogue will be in the same room since the Cheonan incident dramatically raised tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Surin said it was an opportunity to "engage in a discussion to see if the six-party talks can be given a new life".

Clinton will arrive in Vietnam after visits this week to Pakistan and South Korea, where she is due to attend a memorial for the dead sailors and visit the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) alongside Defence Secretary Robert Gates.

South Korea, the United States and other nations, citing the findings of a multinational investigation, accuse the North of firing a torpedo that sank the warship.

The North vehemently denies the allegations and has warned that any attempts to punish it could trigger war.

But the country has also said it is willing to return to the multilateral disarmament talks, which it abandoned last year, after the United Nations Security Council on July 9 condemned the sinking but did not assign blame.

On Myanmar, the draft ASEAN statement calls for elections in the military-ruled member state to be free and fair and involve "all parties".

Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition party is boycotting the poll, which is due some time this year, and the democracy icon remains under house arrest.

Surin said Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win "listened very, very attentively" as his counterparts grilled him about the election during a dinner meeting late Monday.

But the minister left without announcing an election date.

Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo said Myanmar was asked to consider inviting ASEAN "observers" to monitor the polls.

He said the generals would have to change their behaviour once they "take off their uniforms" and "go to win votes, kiss babies and attend to local needs".

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