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Burma Ratifies ASEAN Charter With Human Rights Guarantees


Burma's military government has ratified the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' new charter, which commits ASEAN members to observe democratic principles and protect human rights.

Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win presented the ratification Monday at an annual meeting of top diplomats from the 10 ASEAN member nations.

Burma's ratification follows criticism by other ASEAN countries, including the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand, which agreed to the charter last year but have withheld their own ratification until Burma improves its human rights record.

Opening this week's ministerial meeting in Singapore, the city-state's prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, said ASEAN will continue with implementation of the charter despite some members' resistance. The document, intended to work toward a region-wide free trade zone by 2015, sets common negotiating rules for ASEAN members on trade, investment, environment and other topics.

Burma has been widely criticized for its human rights record. Critics of ASEAN say the forum has not done enough to pressure Burma to end abuses and free detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

In an earlier rebuke, ASEAN foreign ministers issued a statement expressing "deep disappointment" that Burma's military government has extended Aung San Suu Kyi's detention a further six months. The Nobel Peace Prize winner has been under house arrest for most of the past 18 years.

During their talks in Singapore, ASEAN members also are preparing to welcome North Korea as a regional partner, when Pyongyang signs a Treaty of Amity and Cooperation.

ASEAN is holding its annual security dialogue on Thursday. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and foreign ministers from five other countries involved in negotiations on North Korea's nuclear program (China, Japan, Russia, North Korea and South Korea) will talk on the sidelines of the meeting.