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ASEAN Ministers Endorse Burma's Bid to Chair Group in 2014

Burma's Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin (File)

Burma's Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin (File)

Southeast Asian foreign ministers have endorsed a bid by Burma to serve as chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2014.

The ministers met Tuesday on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, opening a four-day diplomatic extravaganza that will peak with an 18-nation summit later in the week.

Burmese Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin confirmed the endorsement in an interview with VOA.

He said all the ministers welcomed recent human rights improvements in Burma and agreed to give Burma the chairmanship. The decision of the foreign ministers, he said, will be handed to their respective leaders.

Burma this year has undertaken a number of reforms, which bolstered its chances of serving as ASEAN host, an honor it was previously denied. Before the meeting, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa welcomed reports that Burma plans to release some of its up to 2,000 political prisoners as early as this week.

About 200 political prisoners were included in a recent mass amnesty that saw more than 6,000 prisoners released. Burmese authorities say only a few hundred political prisoners remain in custody, but human rights groups put the number much higher. One Thailand-based group says it has documented more than 1,600 remaining prisoners.

The ministers are also expected to discuss the economic threat posed by instability in the eurozone and recent territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

The ASEAN ministers meeting will be followed by a summit of the regional grouping's heads of government. They will be joined later in the week by other regional leaders for the East Asia Summit, where the United States and Russia will be full participants for the first time.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.