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The BBC's Simon Ingram in Bangkok
"A widespread sense that Asean has been wanting of late"
 real 28k

Monday, 24 July, 2000, 06:50 GMT 07:50 UK
Reform call tops Asean agenda
Vietnam's Foreign Minister Nguyen Dy Nien, right, smiles as his wife reaches out for a garland presented by hotel staff in Bangkok
Vietnam's Foreign Minister Nguyen Dy Nien, right, is among those present
Foreign ministers from south east Asian nations are meeting to discuss pressing problems such as the Moluccas conflict in Indonesia and trafficking in drugs and people.

But Thailand, this year's host of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean), is also urging change to the organisation itself.

It wants to introduce an idea borrowed from the European Union, where a miniterial troika from three member states would formulate policy in times of crisis.

It has stressed the need for Asean to speed up its decision-making process, after past criticism of its failure to respond to regional crises.

Asean agenda
Internal reform
Deforestation and smog crisis
Bloodshed in Indonesia's Moluccan islands
Trafficking in drugs and people
Economic issues
Fledgling human rights body
Allowing North Korea into Asean security forum
"The challenge before us now is how to deepen our cooperative endeavours," Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai told the conference in his opening address.

"Such an approach is all the more important if we are to keep up with other regional organisations and remain relevant in an increasingly dynamic and globalised world."

Past events which have provoked criticism over Asean's apparent inability to respond have included the 1997 financial crash and the bloodshed in East Timor.

East Timorese independence leader Ramos Horta reads a newspaper
East Timorese independence leader Ramos Horta is observing the meeting
But correspondents say it is unlikely such a plan will gain the consensus it needs.

Vietnam has already given an early hint of its opposition.

Foreign Minister Nguyen Dy Nien said during his opening address that Asean had been bound together by principles of consensus and non-interference in each others affairs.

Forest fires

Ministers at the conference will also discuss the persistent degradation of south east Asia's environment, including deforestation.

Asean members
Indonesia
Thailand
Philippines
Brunei
Cambodia
Laos
Malaysia
Burma
Singapore
Vietnam
In recent months, continued clearing and burning of forested areas and fires sparked by dry weather have caused a recurrence of south east Asia's notorious smog problem.

A tentative step is also being made to propose a regional human rights commission.

But it would have limited powers to tackle abuses, and no investigative remit unless individual nations signed up to it.

Security review

After their two-day meeting, Asean ministers will be joined by their counterparts from key regional players such as the United States, Japan, Russia, China, South Korea, Australia and Canada for the Asean Regional Security Forum (ARF).

North Korea will joined the talks for the first time and its Foreign Minister, Paek Nam Sun, is to meet the US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright.

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See also:

19 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Intervention warning in Moluccas
30 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Landmark Asean meeting in Burma
26 Mar 00 | Business
Asian fund plan dropped
10 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Indonesia faces new smog menace
07 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
Troubled history of the Moluccas
06 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Burma's powerful drug industry
10 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Indonesia's fires: Who's to blame ?
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