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ASEAN Regional Forum Draft Said to Echo UN on Korean Ship Sinking

Motorcyclists ride past the flags of participating countries of the ministerial meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Hanoi on July 19, 2009.

A draft statement prepared for Asia's largest security forum expresses "deep concern" over the sinking of a South Korean warship but stops short of blaming North Korea.

The statement, which was drafted by Vietnam, will be submitted for approval when ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum meet in Hanoi on Friday. Top diplomats from the United States, North Korea and South Korea are expected to attend the meeting, which Vietnam will chair.

The draft statement was leaked to news agencies. It echoes an earlier statement by the U.N. Security Council, which condemned the sinking in March of the Cheonan but did not directly accuse North Korea of carrying it out. South Korea has been lobbying for a stronger statement.

The draft also calls for Burmese elections expected this year to be free, fair and inclusive.

While failing to blame any country by name, the Security Council statement did express concern over the findings of an international investigation of the Cheonan sinking, which killed 46 seamen. That investigation concluded that the ship was almost certainly sunk by a North Korean torpedo.

Nevertheless, North Korea's U.N. ambassador (Sin Son Ho) hailed the statement as a "great diplomatic victory." Pyongyang had previously threatened to take military action if it faced any punitive action by the international community.

Some information for this report provided by AFP and Reuters.