ASEAN foreign ministers gather for retreat

Other News Materials 19 February 2008 07:53 (UTC +04:00)

( dpa ) - Foreign ministers from the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) gathered at Singapore's Sentosa Island Tuesday for an annual retreat focusing on the implementation of the 10-nation group's charter and speeding-up its integration.

The two-day gathering is also to focus on regional developments, a statement from Singapore's Foreign Affairs Ministry said.

Leaders from the ASEAN countries signed the charter at their summit November 20 in Singapore. It commits members to democracy and protection of human rights, mandates the establishment of a human rights body in the region and aims to turn the region into a European Union-style market.

Ratification must come from all members before the economic and political bloc of 560 million people could be created.

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo has warned ASEAN that her country's Congress would not ratify the charter if Myanmar does not release pro-democracy icon and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Other countries also have reservations over the pledge to form a human rights body.

Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Hassan Wirajuda met his Singapore counterpart, George Yeo, Monday. Both agreed on the need to speed up the momentum toward ASEAN integration and the importance of all member nations to ratify the charter as soon as possible.

ASEAN groups Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Brunei, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.

Attending the retreat for the first time is Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Thongloun Sisoulith of Laos.