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NEWS UPDATES 24 October 2009

Asean Summit:
Only 5 out of 10 leaders attend opening ceremony
Rights body launched without civil society representatives

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The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) began its 15th summit and related summits Friday morning in Cha-am and Hua Hin districts, southern Thailand, agencies reported.

The opening ceremony, presided over by Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva at the Dusit Thani Hua Hin hotel, with only five out of the ten Asean leaders present as the leaders from Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia were late due either to their busy schedules at home, impending threat of a natural disaster or health reasons.

Reports said Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen was having a meeting with visiting South Korean President Lee Myung-bak while Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was busy forming his new cabinet, and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was presenting the 2010 national budget to Parliament.

Meanwhile, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo could not leave her country due to Typhoon Lupit, the third storm in a month due to hit the Philippines while Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah was in Cha-am but didn't show up at the opening ceremony amid reports that he was not feeling well.

At the opening ceremony, Prime Minister Abhisit was quoted as saying that the group would continue with the plan to build a "people-centred Asean community" that is rules-based and more effective.

The latest summit also saw the launch of the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, the regional rights body which is not expected to deter human rights violations of Myanmar. It is not expected either to impose punishments but focuses on promotion rather than protection of human rights, said critics.

The inauguration of the rights body saw the governments of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore and the Philippines rejecting members of civil society groups from their respective countries they had been scheduled to meet. Singapore and Myanmar reportedly flew in substitutes from government-sponsored agencies, with Myanmar including a former high-ranking police officer.

Without the original civil society representatives, those from Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia walked out in protest.


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