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ASEAN Ponders New Charter


Foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have completed a draft of a charter for the organization that will radically alter the way its decisions are reached. VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins reports from Manila, where the ASEAN officials met with their counterparts from 17 nations, including the United States and the European Union.

The charter is designed to define ASEAN more clearly, and to provide it with the legal framework it has lacked since its formation in 1967.

A major innovation is that the group's decisions would no longer need to be unanimous.

The draft has not yet been made public, and probably will not be until a final document is signed at the ASEAN meeting in November. Exactly how decisions will now be made has not been revealed.

But Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo told reporters ASEAN's government leaders have approved the new system.

"Where as before it used to be all by consensus, which means unanimous, now we have introduced a provision, and it has been accepted to the leaders: we do not impose any requirement of consensus or unanimity. It is up to the leaders," said Mr. Romulo.

The charter also stipulates the establishment of a regional human rights body. This provision was agreed upon with difficulty this week, only after the foreign ministers were able to obtain the grudging agreement of Burma.

Many countries, including its fellow ASEAN members, have criticized Burma's poor human rights record.

Once the new system is in place, it would presumably become easier to overcome the objections of a single member nation like Burma.

Nuclear security figured prominently in the forum that brought officials of the 10 ASEAN nations and 17 others together.

Earlier in the week, the ASEAN ministers welcomed advances in six-nation talks aimed at convincing North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programs. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said he hopes those talks will continue to progress.

"We look forward to the work that is going to be done in the six-party format during the next several weeks, and are hopeful of continued progress towards the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which is obviously a very, very important element of establishing long-term and enduring peace in this part of the world," said Negroponte.

The ASEAN ministers also agreed to create their own regional nuclear watchdog body, to ensure nuclear reactors in the area are not used to produce nuclear weapons.

Singaporean Foreign Minister George Yeo says these discussions bring nations closer and advance the cause of peace in Southeast Asia.

"We have reached a certain stage now where we are breaking through to a new level, in our internal construction, in our relations with all our partners, in our dedication to the construction of a regional architecture, which will maximize our chances for peace and development," said Mr. Yeo.

As the conference closed, ASEAN named former Thai foreign minister Surin Pitsuwan as the organization's new secretary-general.

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