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Page last updated at 09:21 GMT, Friday, 23 October 2009 10:21 UK

Asian leaders launch rights group

A Thai soldier stands guard at a hotel in Cha-Am beach resort on Thursday ahead of the Asean summit there
Thai authorities are determined to ensure no protests disrupt the summit

Asian leaders at a regional summit in Thailand have officially launched a new human rights watchdog, officials said.

Campaigners say the body will do little to deter rights violators because it has no power to punish members.

The leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) are meeting under heavy security at the beach resort of Cha-Am.

Anti-government protesters forced the cancellation of the previous attempt to hold the summit in April.

The economy, climate change and disaster management are also on the summit's agenda.

Promote, not protect

After the opening ceremony, the representatives of the 10 summit nations signed into being the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights.

Correspondents say the new commission is in part a response to criticism that the region is soft on human rights abuses by member nations such as Burma. But observers have queried whether it will have sufficient powers to make a real difference.

The commission has no power to punish members such as Burma who violate rights and is meant to promote rather than protect human rights, activists say.

Gen Than Shwe salutes during Armed Forces Day - 27 March 2006
Burma's military rulers have put thousands of dissidents in jail

The Asean summit was preceded by reports that an earlier effort by Asean to call for an amnesty for detained Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was blocked by Burma.

Rights campaigners have said half the Asean governments have rejected representatives nominated by regional rights groups for the commission and replaced them with their own.

The leaders are also due to discuss plans to expand regional trade and investment - in particular with China - and in the longer term the goal of establishing an EU-style regional community

They are also expected to issue a declaration backing this December's global climate change talks in Copenhagen.

Talks will also be held with leaders of non-Asean countries in the wider region, including Japan, China, India, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

Neighbours

Tension between summit host Thailand and neighbouring Cambodia was sparked ahead of the summit following the offer by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen of sanctuary to the former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a coup in 2006.

Relations between the two neighbours were already strained by a territorial dispute centred on the ancient Preah Vihear temple on their shared border.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen stayed away from the summit's opening to host visiting South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

Several leaders were also unable to attend the opening. Philippine President Gloria Arroyo was delayed due to Typhoon Lupit, the third major storm in a month to hit the country, Indonesia was swearing in President Susilo Bambang Yudhyono's new cabinet and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak was presenting the government's budget to parliament.

Heavy security

Some 18,000 security personnel have thrown a cordon around the meeting venue in Cha-am, some 200km (125 miles) south of Bangkok, say reports.

Another 18,000 are said to be on alert, and special powers to impose curfews and restrict freedom of movement have been granted in case of protests.

Roadblocks have been set up and local fishermen even prevented from going out to sea.

Correspondents say Thai authorities were humiliated when protesters overcame thin police lines at the last Asean summit in the Thai resort of Pattaya last April - forcing the whole event to be cancelled.



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