ASEAN Ministers Begin Week of High-Profile Diplomacy

Posted November 15th, 2011 at 2:45 am (UTC-5)
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Southeast Asian foreign ministers met in Indonesia Tuesday for the start of a four-day diplomatic extravaganza that will peak with an 18-nation summit later in the week.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa welcomed fellow ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to the resort island of Bali before the group disappeared behind closed doors.

One of the top issues expected to be discussed is whether to approve Burma's bid to serve as chair of the 10-nation grouping in 2014. With that in mind, Natalegawa welcomed reports that Burma plans to release some of its up to 2,000 political prisoners as early as this week.

About 200 political prisoners were included in a recent mass amnesty that saw more than 6,000 prisoners released. Burmese authorities say only a few hundred political prisoners remain in custody, but human rights groups put the number much higher. One Thailand-based group says it has documented more than 1,600 remaining prisoners.

The ministers are also expected to discuss the economic threat posed by instability in the eurozone and recent territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

The ASEAN ministers meeting will be followed by a summit of the regional grouping's heads of government. They will be joined later in the week by other regional leaders for the East Asia Summit, where the United States and Russia will be full participants for the first time.