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Last Updated: Monday, 30 July 2007, 14:30 GMT 15:30 UK
Asean agrees on landmark charter
By Michael Barker
BBC News, Manila

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo with Asean foreign ministers - 30/07/07
Asean members hope to adopt the charter formally later this year
Ministers from South-East Asian countries have reached agreement on a landmark draft charter.

The document gives the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) a set of binding rules for the first time in the bloc's 40-year existence.

The agreement comes after nearly two years of deliberations among members.

It includes a contentious provision to set up a commission monitoring human rights in the region - despite strong misgivings from some Asean countries.

Credibility boost

With governments in the region running the gamut from fully-fledged democracies to a military dictatorship, finding consensus on a human rights commission was always going to be a tough sell.

Burma (Myanmar) - a country which has been heavily criticised for rights abuses in the past - had strongly opposed the commission right up to Monday's ministerial meeting in Manila.

It eventually gave grudging 11th-hour approval in the face of clamour from other members.

Diplomatic sources said Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam also had misgivings - fearing human rights probes could result in violations of the group's strict policy of non-interference in each others' affairs.

However the charter is seen as crucial for giving Asean - previously regarded as a mere talk shop - credibility and bargaining power on the world stage.

It will also help smooth the way for the group's aim of full economic integration.

The next step for the bloc - which groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam - is to formally adopt the landmark charter at its summit in November.


SEE ALSO
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