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August 6, 2007

Charter to include foreign ministers' inputs
There has been progress in finalising the ASEAN Charter since the recently concluded foreign ministers' meeting in Manila, Channel News Asia quoted ASEAN's Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong as saying.

Speaking at an ASEAN Think Tank Forum in Singapore on Monday, Mr Ong said the first draft is being revised to take into account the ministers' inputs and he expects the final draft to be ready for legal and language scrubbing at the end of September.

The forum, organised by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, was an opportunity for the ASEAN chief to update regional analysts and members of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) on what was achieved at the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting a week ago.

Mr Ong said there has been a very good first draft of the milestone ASEAN Charter and the foreign ministers have decided that controversial issues affecting the group's standing and credibility would be sent to the leaders for a decision.

He said: "We removed the original draft where leaders should also make (a) decision based on consensus. We just (put it as) ASEAN Summit will be asked to make a decision and that's it. If you have a good chairman, he or she can go around the table and say 'Do you agree? Why do you not agree? Can we find a way to address your concern?' That is the kind of approach we are advocating and that is what I call statesmanship."

Debbie Stothard, Founder of Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, posed these questions at the forum: "What about Myanmar or Burma being the millstone at ASEAN's milestone? How do you address a country like Burma? How do you deal with something like that when you are watering down the ASEAN Charter, which basically means you are a member of a club where members can blatantly break the rules without any fear of pressure?"

Mr Ong revealed there were members more vocal than Myanmar about the human rights provisions in the Charter.

He said: "When we talk about human rights, don't get away with the impression that the only guy who objects to whatever provisions we want in the ASEAN Charter is Myanmar.

"From my perspective as the secretary-general for the last four and a half years, Myanmar is not an issue for me with regards to human rights. You know why? Because they say, 'I have democracy, I have human rights. You can put anything in the Charter as long as you put it in a balanced way'.

"In our discussion on drafting the human rights provision, it was not Burma, as you call it, that caused all the trouble. There were four other countries that had reservations about how this paragraph was drafted and two of them were most vocal and they did not include Burma."

Participants at the forum also highlighted some of the problems within ASEAN which could hamper its integration.

One of them is the existence of visa restrictions for travel in countries like Cambodia and Myanmar.

ASEAN's secretary-general said the aim is to remove all visa restrictions for travel by 2010 so as to achieve the vision of ASEAN economic integration by 2015.

ASEAN's foreign ministers have also emphasised the need to keep firmly to the timelines drawn up and to prepare all targets for endorsement by the leaders at the 13th ASEAN Summit in Singapore in November. CNA

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