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December 13, 2008

Asean Summit:
Thailand mulls meeting in February

Thailand reaffirmed Friday it plans to host the annual summits of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, if possible in the first week of February, and to retain the Asean chairmanship through 2009, Kyodo news agency quoted a senior Foreign Ministry official as saying Friday.

Political turmoil in Thailand has jeopardised Bangkok's hosting role after it postponed the annual Asean summits and related meetings with leaders from Japan, China, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.

The ruling government changed the venue from Bangkok to the northern city Chiang Mai to avoid massive and embarrassing antigovernment protesters but still had to call for a postponement.

A court ruling December 2 unseated Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat and left the Cabinet as simply caretakers.

The caretaker government will still have a ministerial representative chair the special Asean foreign ministers meeting in Jakarta next Monday at the Asean Secretariat.

"We will rebuild confidence that we could serve as Asean chair until the end of 2009 and the 14th Asean summit must be held only in Thailand," said Vitavas Srivihok, head of Foreign Ministry's Asean Affairs Department. "At this stage we are not considering allowing the summit meetings to be held outside Thailand."

"We have never spared any thought for giving up our chairmanship," Vitavas said.

He added Thailand would be unable to hold the Asean chairmanship only if there were to be a military coup, which would be against the democratic principles in the Asean Charter.

On Monday, the 10 Asean countries will celebrate the ASEAN Charter's entry into force.

It binds the region together as a community with shared common visions on politics, economic and social values.

Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, a prospective candidate for premier, reassured Friday that if he wins the parliamentary election to lead a new coalition government, he would put Asean issues on the national agenda, according to Vitavas who met with Abhisit, now opposition leader.

The lower house is to convene a special session Monday to elect a premier who will require a royal endorsement.

It will take another week or so to formally name a Cabinet and the administration can formally begin working only after a policy statement is declared to the House of Representatives.

That process is likely to take until the third week of January, according to Vitavas.

A Democrat-led coalition government would ensure expedition of the parliamentary process to approve all of some 30 documents to be signed or adopted during the Asean summits and related meetings, Vitavas quoted Abhisit as saying.

Parliament had scheduled Monday and Tuesday to consider the Asean documents, but that idea ended with the Somchai-led government.

Key documents for approval include the Roadmap for an Asean Community 2009-2015 and the Asean Political-Security Community Blueprint.

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