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 24 Jul 2008

Asean Regional Forum:
Meeting to focus on N. Korea, border row, disaster relief

North Korea's denuclearization process, a tense Cambodian-Thai border standoff, counterterrorism cooperation and maritime security in the Straits of Malacca were expected to top the agenda for 27 ministers from Asia-Pacific nations and their key partners as they met Thursday for an annual security dialogue, reported Kyodo news agency.

Another major focus at the Asean Regional Forum in Singapore is likely to be disaster relief, including how to utilize the framework to better coordinate responses to events like the cyclone devastation in Myanmar and the deadly earthquake in China in May, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said.

The ARF gathering will wrap up a series of meetings hosted by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations this week, during which foreign ministers of the six nations involved in talks on ending North Korea's nuclear ambitions stole some of the limelight with an informal gathering on the sidelines.

Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura plans to reemphasize at Thursday's meeting Tokyo's stance that North Korea, which is a member of the talks, must make progress on its promises both to denuclearize and to resolve cases of Japanese nationals abducted by its agents.

As the forum marks its 15th anniversary this year, the ARF member nations are set to agree to transform it from a platform for dialogue to a body enabling concrete forms of cooperation.

Under the initiative of Singapore, as chair, the participants will decide to focus such cooperation on four main areas: disaster relief, counterterrorism and transnational crime, maritime security, and nonproliferation and disarmament, the official said.

Concerns about political developments in Myanmar, as well as further cooperation with peacekeeping efforts within the ARF will also be discussed.

In addition to a chairman's statement, host Singapore plans to issue a separate declaration commemorating the forum's 15th anniversary, according to the official.

Initiated by Asean in 1994, the ARF is the only government-to-government forum in the region mandated to discuss security-related issues at the ministerial level.

Asean comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. They form the ARF together with Australia, Canada, China, Japan, China, India, North Korea, South Korea, Russia, the United States, the European Union and others.

Among them, North and South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States are members of the six-party nuclear talks.




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