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ASEAN Members to Discuss Economy, Human Rights

Thailand is set to host the annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The focus, as always, is on economic integration, but human rights and the fate of Burmese boat people are also to be discussed.

Thailand has literally given a drum roll for this year's ASEAN summit.

The meeting of countries in Southeast Asia will be held at the end of the month in Thailand's Hua Hin beach resort.

Member countries are expected to discuss how to strengthen their economies in the face of the global economic slowdown.

Thailand's Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, says they also want to build a stronger sense of community in Southeast Asia.

"The summit will be a good opportunity for ASEAN to show to the rest of the world that ASEAN is still very much relevant," said Vejjajiva. "The 10 member countries of ASEAN are integral parts of a wider integrated East Asia community, which has been and will continue to be the engine of the world's economic growth."

Southeast Asia, like most of the world, has to some degree suffered from tightening credit-mainly from lower demand for its exports.

Mr. Vejjajiva says the ASEAN summit will also discuss human rights issues.

He says an ASEAN human rights body, that he says will be credible and realistic, will be established by the end of the year.

Southeast Asian governments are routinely criticized for human rights violations. Burma's military-run government is most often in the spotlight.

But, even Thailand, one of the more democratic of the nations, has had to defend its military from accusations of abusing Burmese boat refugees.

Thailand's foreign minister, Kasit Piromya, says ASEAN nations will discuss how to deal with the Burmese boat people-the Rohingya. But despite concerns that they face persecution in Burma, he says they are not refugees.

"Definitely there will be some sort of a side meeting and to discuss the possibility of furthering the cooperation on the Rohingya question," he said. "At this point in time, I think all of us, the affected country deem the issue as the question of economic migrants, pure and simple."

Human rights groups say the Rohingya are perhaps the most persecuted ethnic minority in Burma.

In recent months hundreds of Rohingya have washed up in Thailand, India, and Indonesia, many with stories of abuse at the hands of the Burmese and Thai militaries.

Thailand has denied the accusations. Both Thailand and Indonesia have indicated they will deport all Rohingya who enter their countries illegally.