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Asian Leaders Gather for ASEAN Summit in Cambodia - 2002-11-02

Asian leaders representing one-half of the world's population are gathering in Cambodia for three days of summitry. Although cooperation and regional integration are the official reasons for the gathering, terrorism and nuclear proliferation are likely to dominate much of the discussions.

The leaders of Southeast Asian nations, China, Japan, South Korea and India are meeting to address challenges posed by the increasingly globalized economy. But it is the worldwide spread of terrorism and nuclear weapons that will receive a great deal of attention.

It has been less than three weeks since the bomb attacks in Bali, Indonesia, brought home the fact that organized international terrorism has spread to the region.

ASEAN Secretary-General Rodolfo Severino told VOA he hopes terrorism will not overshadow the proceedings, but acknowledges it will be addressed.

"Terrorism is an important issue that the leaders will certainly address," Mr. Severino said. "This will be an opportunity for them to agree on stepped-up measures to deal with terrorism, and to make their condemnation of terrorism even more emphatic."

But Mr. Severino says Asian leaders are also likely to pressure against the tendency to identify terrorism with a specific religion or ethnic group.

The ASEAN official says recent accusations by the U.S. government that North Korea continues to develop nuclear weapons is an important issue that affects the whole region. He says it is likely to be addressed in the meetings between ASEAN leaders and those of China, South Korea and Japan.

On the eve of the summit, senior officials announced that delegates had reached agreement on a code of conduct in the South China Sea. Six Asian countries have competing claims over the Spratly Islands and several atolls in the sea.

The head of the delegation that brokered the deal, Cambodian diplomat Chem Widhya, says, in the declaration is a commitment to refrain from activities that would escalate tensions in the area.

"It means that we agree to come together in a kind of political cooperation in the Asia-Pacific to ensure security, to ensure stability, to ensure peace," he said.

The ASEAN summit opens Monday. It is to be preceded by a meeting of six countries in the greater Mekong River region, where dam projects, irrigation and pollution threaten the livelihoods of millions of people.

The ASEAN leaders Tuesday are to meet with the leaders of China, Japan, South Korea and India. They also are to hear South Africa's president, Thabo Mbeki, discuss the recently formed New Partnership for Africa's Development.

Security has been tightened considerably in Phnom Penh, as the heads of government arrive. Truckloads of helmeted troops guard official convoys, and hundreds of police are stationed outside hotels where the delegations are staying.

The Cambodian government has declared a holiday during the summit, and closed schools, government offices and some businesses.