The 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are struggling with a number of controversial issues in the drafting of a new charter. The ASEAN foreign ministers are gathering for an informal meeting in Manila before opening their annual meeting Monday. VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins is in the Philippine capital Manila where the meeting is being held.

The foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, hope to spend Monday finalizing the draft of a charter. The document is considered a milestone for the group because it will create a rules-based community similar to the European Union.

But finishing the document may not be easy. One of the most controversial issues is Burma's objection to a proposal to create a regional human rights body.

Enshrining human rights in the charter has been a thorny issue: several ASEAN nations have authoritarian or one-party governments and Burma's human rights record is considered dismal.

The United States and the European Union have long called on ASEAN to pressure Burma's military government to make good on its pledges to bring democracy to the country and release opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo says ASEAN still hopes Burma will eventually follow its so-called road map to democracy.

"We continue to hope that in spite of the fact that, you know, after 10 years, we're still in the road map to democracy, but we continue to hope that since they are, they now have a national convention, that eventually that road map to democracy will be complete," said Romulo.

Human rights groups complain that ASEAN's principle of non-interference in member's domestic affairs has fostered undemocratic governments in the region.

The foreign ministers also must settle such charter details as to how to handle votes and how to punish nations that break the charter rules. Currently, ASEAN members act only after achieving a consensus and violations of decisions are not punished.

After some revisions the charter is expected to be adopted and ratified at a leader's summit in November and ratified by member states by the end of 2008.

The ASEAN charter is not the only issue up for discussion at Monday's meeting. Other issues include fighting terrorism, creating a regional body to respond quickly to disasters, and setting up a safety watchdog to make sure nuclear plants in the region are not used to produce weapons.

The foreign ministers also will hold bilateral meetings with a number of neighboring nations and key partners, including the United States. On Thursday, the ASEAN Regional Forum meets, with senior officials from the European Union, China, Japan, the U.S. and other nations.