News / Asia

ASEAN Foreign Ministers Endorse Burma as 2014 Chair

ASEAN Foreign Ministers attend the opening of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting at Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, November 15, 2011.
ASEAN Foreign Ministers attend the opening of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting at Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, November 15, 2011.

Southeast Asian foreign ministers have voiced support for Burma to serve as chair of ASEAN in 2014. 

ASEAN cooperation director general with the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Djauhari Oratmangun said the foreign ministers endorsed Burma to lead ASEAN in 2014, but the heads of states still must vote on the issue.  

“The decision is going to be made by the leaders, not by the foreign ministers.  So you have to wait till the end of the ASEAN Summit," he said.

The ministers from the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are discussing regional economic and security issues this week in Bali.  ASEAN heads of states will attend later in the week, and will be joined by other regional leaders for the East Asia Summit, in which the United States and Russia will be full participants for the first time.

Allowing Burma's military led government to take over the leadership of the regional organization that promotes democratic principles and the protection of human rights has been controversial.

Some human rights groups have argued ASEAN should require Burma to enact extensive reforms before rewarding its leaders with the chairmanship.

But, Burmese Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin said all the ASEAN foreign ministers endorsed Burma.

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 that strengthened its chances of serving as ASEAN host.  Before the meeting, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa welcomed reports that Burma plans to release some of its remaining political prisoners as early as this week.

"Absolutely, this is very very encouraging further development," he said. "As you are aware we have been expecting more of this type of steps.  It is a process, so the latest announcement of further release of political prisoners is something we very much welcome and we wish to see more of such steps so we create even more irreversible momentum towards ... Myanmar."

About 200 political prisoners were included in a recent mass amnesty that released more than 6,000 prisoners.  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.

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