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July 19, 2008

41st Asean Ministerial Meeting:
Myanmar junta ratifies Asean charter

Military-ruled Myanmar will accede to the Asean Charter during the grouping's annual ministerial meeting next week in Singapore, Jakarta Post quoted the city-state's Foreign Minister George Yeo as saying Friday.

“Myanmar has recently ratified it and will be announcing it next week officially,” Yeo told Dow Jones Newswires in an interview published on the ministry's website

This ironically leaves three of the bloc's five founders - Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines - the only members yet to ratify the charter that seeks the full-blown unification of its 10 members under the pillars of security, economy and social culture by 2015.

Often dismissed as a talking shop, Asean leaders signed the charter last November with the aim of creating an economically, socially and politically integrated bloc by 2015.

However, there have been some doubts over the full ratification of the charter whose soft deadline is in December. Some members of the Philippines senate have threatened to block the ratification of the charter unless Myanmar releases democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

But Singapore’s Yeo said he was confident the charter would be fully ratified by the end of the year.

"I'm not pessimistic about the Philippines, I fully expect that the charter would be fully ratified by the time of the next summit at the end of the year."

The charter, signed by Asean leaders last November in Singapore, commits members to strengthening democracy, enhancing good governance and the rule of law, and promoting human rights and basic freedoms. All members are expected to have ratified it by year's end.

Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Teuku Faizasyah said Friday the government had submitted the charter to the House of Representatives for ratification.

Unlike in some Asean countries, internationally binding treaties require ratification by the House to take effect in Indonesia.

"The charter text was submitted early this week. Hopefully it will go for deliberation after the House resumes session," he said. The House goes into recess Saturday and reconvenes August 15.

The ratification had initially been planned for submission in April, but lengthy delays have taken place amid sporadic criticism from lawmakers and analysts, particularly over the planned creation of a regional human rights body and the absence of provisions on a mechanism for sanctions.

Myanmar, often the bloc's bad boy in terms of human rights record, will be a main topic at next week's meeting over the relief work following May's Cyclone Nargis disaster that left more than 100,000 dead or missing.

The junta had initially refused to allow in foreign aid workers, only bowing to Asean pressure two weeks after the tragedy. It was also slammed for moving on with holding a referendum on a military-backed constitution despite the havoc.

The 41st Asean Ministerial Meeting will also have the foreign ministers meet with the High-Level Legal Experts' Group to address dispute settlement mechanisms and with the High-Level Panel on the establishment of the human rights body that will draft its Terms of Reference.

Singapore will also hand over the chairmanship of Asean to Thailand at the end of the meeting on July 24.

More on Myanmar

More on Asean

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