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Southeast Asian Foreign Ministers Wrap Up Talks With Mild Censure of Burma


Southeast Asia foreign ministers conveyed their dissatisfaction over the slow pace of political reforms in Burma but stopped short of taking any tough action against Rangoon. Where the ministers have wrapped up their annual meeting.

The ministers' communiqué Tuesday called for "tangible progress" in Burma's so-called "roadmap" to democracy and for the release of political prisoners.

But the ministers agreed to give Burma, also known as Myanmar, space to deal with its challenges, reflecting ASEAN's long tradition of not interfering in each others' internal affairs.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar, who has said Burma's delays in political reforms hurt ASEAN's credibility, defended the wording of the statement.

"Myanmar engaged is better than Myanmar isolated. But the paragraph that we have done on Myanmar is very clear, very concise on the views and attitudes of the ASEAN countries," he said. "And we recognize their difficulties at the same time we recognize the desire of the international community brought to the mainstream of international relations and politics."

Hamid says ASEAN will continue to engage Burma and will support a role for the United Nations in the isolated country.

The military has controlled Burma for more than four decades and most senior members of the opposition National League for Democracy are in detention or exile. The military has suspended indefinitely a national convention to draft a new constitution.

Thai Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon says now that ASEAN has made clear what it wants Burma to do, the country's military leaders are expected more than ever to deliver.

"They did express to us that the convention should be moved up by a year, in other words we were told during the spring time that the convention would be completed by 2008. But Myanmar has expressed to me that now it's 2007 they expect the convention to be finished. But what we would like to see is an acceleration of that process," Kantathi says.

In the same statement Tuesday, the ministers urged a resumption of talks on ending North Korea's nuclear programs and expressed hope that the six nations engaged in the process would seize the ASEAN Regional Forum Friday as an opportunity for dialogue.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun are expected to attend the meeting Friday, along with foreign ministers of the other countries involvement in the negotiations - China, Russia, Japan and South Korea.

The ministers also called for an immediate cease-fire in the Middle East, where thousands of workers from ASEAN countries are trapped in the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon.

The ministers also urged all the members to accelerate the economic integration toward an ASEAN Community by 2020. And, in light of recent natural disasters in the region, called on countries that have not yet ratified the Agreement on Disaster management and Emergency Response to do so soon.

ASEAN's members are Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Burma, Brunei, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos.

Wednesday, the ministers will meet with the foreign ministers of South Korea, Japan and China.

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