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ASEAN Agrees to Draft Charter on Democracy, Human Rights

Charter would make group's agreements legally binding, possibly pressuring wayward member countries such as Burma toward democratic reforms.

The 10 member nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have ended a one-day summit in the Malaysian capital with aagreement to draft a charter to promote democracy, human rights, and good governance.

Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations agreed to begin working immediately on the historic charter, the first to be adopted since ASEAN was founded in 1967.

ASEAN Secretary General Ong Keng Yong says the charter will strengthen the group.

"An ASEAN charter will help to develop the institution, make it stronger and more modernized to deal with so many of these economic cooperation agreements and other kinds of agreements with other countries." said Ong Keng Yong.

The charter will make ASEAN agreements legally binding, possibly pressuring wayward countries such as Burma towards democratic reform.

ASEAN leaders called for Burma to expedite democratic reform and release all political prisoners, including democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi.

This week also sees the inaugural meeting of The East Asian Summit, which groups ASEAN nations plus China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, and New Zealand.

The East Asian Summit will meet for the first time Wednesday to discuss plans for a regional economic community involving half the world's population.

ASEAN will also meet this week with its dialogue partners, China, Japan, and South Korea under the ASEAN Plus Three banner, despite the emergence of the new grouping.

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi says ASEAN Plus Three will continue to be held annually alongside the ASEAN summit.

"ASEAN Plus Three is important," said Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. "We have had very long experience of working together in ways that have benefited ASEAN and I believe too they have benefited key countries China, Japan, and Korea. They are very much involved in capacity development of ASEAN."

Japanese officials said the leaders of Japan, China, and South Korea held a brief "friendly" chat on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit.

But the annual formal meeting of the three leaders held every year during ASEAN was not scheduled this year due to tensions regarding Japan's wartime actions.

China and South Korea, both occupied by Japan during World War II, say Tokyo has not done enough to atone for atrocities committed during its militarist past.

The two countries are particularly angry over Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Kouzumi's continued visits to a controversial war shrine.