ASEAN Ends Summit Urging End to Burma Sanctions

Posted April 4th, 2012 at 3:20 am (UTC-5)
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Southeast Asian leaders are formally calling for Western nations to promptly lift economic sanctions on Burma.

The appeal was included in their closing statement Wednesday after a two-day summit in Cambodia. The 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations also pledged to intensify efforts to resolve maritime disputes with China in the South China Sea and urged restraint on the Korean Peninsula, where North Korea is planning a controversial rocket launch.

The appeal for an end to Burma sanctions had been expected following weekend by-elections in which that nation's most prominent opposition party won 43 of a possible 44 seats. The outcome means Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent decades under house arrest, will enter parliament for the first time.

The success of the elections, which were judged free and fair by most outside observers, provided vindication to ASEAN, which has long been criticized for its cautious approach to pressing for reform in member nation Burma, until recently one of the world's most closed and repressive states.

Burma is still controlled by close allies of the former military government and still holds a number of political prisoners. But supporters argue the sanctions should be lifted to encourage and support the government of President Thein Sein, which has made dramatic reforms since coming to power a year ago.

Host nation Cambodia had hesitated to put the South China Sea disputes on the summit agenda, especially after a high-profile visit last week by Chinese President Hu Jintao. But foreign ministers from Vietnam and the Philippines pressed for the issue's inclusion during a meeting in Phnom Penh on Monday.

China and the ASEAN members have long been committed to negotiate terms for implementing a code of conduct in the potentially resource-rich sea, claimed in whole or in part by China and five other governments. However progress has lagged, with several countries favoring a multilateral approach but China preferring to deal with each country separately.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said the summit participants stressed the need to resolve the disputes through the existing framework.

“It was discussed in a very positive way, re-affirmation of ASEAN's position for the issue to be resolved within the ASEAN China framework, the emphasis is on the implementation of the DOC (Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in South China Sea) including the projects as well as the code of conduct.”

On North Korea, the leaders called for all parties to avoid escalating tensions, falling short of an expected denunciation of Pyongyang's plan to launch a ballistic rocket this month. Natalegawa said ASEAN's main interest is in the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

“There was just a general discussion on the Korean peninsula, reaffirmation of ASEAN's continued concern and following of the developments in the Korean peninsula, wanting to see the realization of the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, for inter-Korean talks, and not wanting to see any developments that would impair that kind of conditions.”

Several countries, including the United States, South Korea and Japan, have charged that the North Korean space launch is in fact a disguised test for a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.