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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 January 2007, 05:46 GMT
Asean heads gather despite bombs
Philippine special police drill in Cebu, the Philippines
8,000 police and soldiers are on duty on the island of Cebu
Heads of government from south-east Asia are arriving in the Philippines for a regional summit, just a day after a series of bombs rocked the country.

The Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) meeting will discuss counter-terrorism and trade ties.

The need for enhanced security was underscored by Wednesday's bombs in the south, which killed seven people.

But Foreign Minister Alberto Romulo insisted that the summit, on the island of Cebu, would go ahead as planned.

Even before the bombs, security at the venue was tight, after several participating governments warned of a terrorist threat.

The summit was originally scheduled for December, but it had to be delayed for a month after a typhoon hit the region, though there were allegations the delay was also linked to a terrorist threat.

'More teeth'

Presidents, prime ministers and other delegates from the 10 nations that make up Asean are due to attend the meetings over the weekend.

Representatives from Japan, China, India, Australia, South Korea and New Zealand will also take part.

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Terrorism will be top of the agenda, with leaders expected to sign a pact pledging closer co-operation in the fight against radical groups such as regional militant network Jemaah Islamiah.

An EU-style charter is also up for discussion.

Asean has been criticised for being little more than a talking shop in the past. Creating a more rules-based organisation is seen as giving it more teeth, correspondents say.

Speeding up a free trade area in south-east Asia is another priority.

The target date for a single market is 2020, but some members want it in place five years earlier, to make sure the region does not lose out on business opportunities and investment to giant neighbours China and India.

A sticking point is Burma, whose military government has been slow to move towards its pledge of greater democracy, frustrating other Asean members.

"We welcome recent developments in Myanmar (Burma) but call for further progress toward the road to democracy," Mr Romulo said on Thursday.

Security threat

Philippine security forces say the terrorist threat has now passed, but they are still taking no chances, with 8,000 police and soldiers on duty in Cebu.

Organisers of the summit insist the bombings on Wednesday on the island of Mindanao were in response to a crackdown on militants there, and had nothing to do with the conference.

"We'd like to dispel any notion the recent bombings are in any way related to the hosting of the summit meetings here," said Marciano Paynor, head of the summit organising committee.

"Our venues and all other concerned areas are safe and the delegates are arriving as scheduled," he said.


SEE ALSO
Philippines postpones Asean talks
08 Dec 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Philippine storm toll set to rise
04 Dec 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: The Philippines
02 Aug 06 |  Country profiles

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