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Asia

Myanmar, North Korea dominate ASEAN agenda

Foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN have begun a four day meeting in Vietnam.

Foreign Ministers from the ASEAN bloc gather for a group photo during the plenary session

Foreign Ministers from the ASEAN bloc gather for a group photo

The Southeast Asian neighbors of Myanmar (Burma) have urged the military-run government to hold free and fair elections. During a dinner on Monday, Myanmar's Foreign Minister Nyan Win got an 'earful' from his counterparts in the region, said Surin Pitsuwan, the secretary-general of ASEAN. "ASEAN is very much concerned and ASEAN is very much interested in the peaceful national reconciliation in Myanmar."

Surin added that the Burmese minister was also told that the polls could have 'positive and negative implications' for the region. The military junta wants to hold elections this year, but it has refused to reveal a date for the vote yet.

ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan

ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan

Addressing reporters on the sidelines of the meeting, Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo said that ministers "suggested quite strongly" to the officials from Myanmar that they consider having ASEAN observers at the polls.

Korean issue

The other issue on the agenda is the tension on the Korean Peninsula, especially in the wake of the sinking of a South Korean warship in March this year.

South Korea, on the basis of a multinational probe has blamed North Korea for the Cheonan’s sinking. 46 South Korean sailors were killed in the incident. But the North denies the claims outright.

South Korean Prime Minister Chung Un-chan, left, paying tribute to the 46 deceased sailors of the sunken Cheonan

South Korean Prime Minister Chung Un-chan, left, paying tribute to the 46 deceased sailors of the sunken Cheonan

A draft statement prepared ahead of the meeting said ASEAN deplored the Cheonan's sinking and the mounting tension between the two Koreas.

Security dialogue

On Friday, the ASEAN foreign ministers will meet with their counterparts from 17 other nations, including the two Koreas, the US, China, India as well as from European Union nations at the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), Asia's largest security dialogue.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-Chun will be attending the meeting.

"The chair will make use of the presence of the (North Korean) minister to engage in a discussion to see if the six-party talks can be given a new life," ASEAN chief Surin Pitsuwan told reporters on the sidelines of the ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting.

North Korea has of late hinted that it wants to restart the multilateral talks. But Seoul and Washington insist that it must admit responsibility for the sinking of Cheonan first. The six-party talks, which involve the two Koreas, the US, China, Japan and Russia, have been stalled since late 2007.

du/AFP/dpa/Reuters/AP
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein

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