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ASEAN Leaders Pledge to Promote Democracy

Ten Southeast Asian nations have opened a summit in Malaysia by agreeing to draft a charter to promote human rights and democracy. They are also preparing a summit with the major powers in the region.

Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations pledged Monday to draft an ASEAN charter to promote democracy, human rights and good governance. Experts say the charter could make ASEAN agreements legally binding and provide enforcement for declarations by ASEAN, which has often been referred to as a "talk shop."

ASEAN Wednesday is to host the first East Asia Summit with leaders of China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand. Chairman Abdullah Badawi of host Malaysia called the summit an important geo-political and geo-strategic development.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer notes the goals of this groundbreaking gathering. "The East Asia Summit will have a focus on regional security and prospects for regional economic integration," he said.

A draft declaration received by VOA says the summit is to be a forum for dialogue on broad strategic, political and economic issues of common interest. The draft says the purpose is to promote peace, stability and economic prosperity in East Asia.

Before wrapping up their own summit though, ASEAN leaders hope to set up regional mechanisms to combat any human outbreak of bird flu. They propose to build regional stockpiles of anti-viral medicines and maintain transparency concerning any outbreaks.

They are also seeking enhanced cooperation against international terrorism and transnational crime and are to issue a call for nuclear non-proliferation on the Korean Peninsula.

Some delegates say they want the leaders to address high oil prices, which are threatening economic growth, and environmental hazards like the smoke caused by seasonal forest fires in some member nations.