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ASEAN gears up for summit

LEADERS from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will descend on Hanoi this week for the 17th ASEAN summit, where they will attempt to move past their political differences in order to strengthen regional ties.

Prime Minister Hun Sen will depart for the summit tomorrow, leading a delegation that will join officials from Russia, the United States and other countries before returning to the Kingdom on Saturday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said.

In a videoconference with regional journalists and diplomats yesterday, ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan said talks in Hanoi would focus on improving inter-regional connectivity as the group pursues its goal of “ASEAN Community by 2015”.

“ASEAN needs to be connected. It doesn’t make sense that shipping cargo from Bangkok to Cebu would cost more than Bangkok to Los Angeles,” Surin said.

At the previous ASEAN summit – in Hanoi in April – leaders proposed the creation of an ASEAN infrastructure fund to support the construction of transportation and communications links in the region.

Surin said yesterday that the bloc was also considering a policy of allowing skilled workers – including doctors, engineers and accountants – to move freely across regional borders.

“Because of the diversity of our economic development, it will be very difficult,” Surin said.

“We can’t say that we want [all] people to move freely within ASEAN like in Europe.”

As is usual at ASEAN meetings, however, concerns about global pariah Myanmar threaten to overshadow the talks.

Myanmar will hold its first elections in two decades next month, though heavy voting restrictions have led many to denounce the polls as a sham aimed only at preserving military rule.

Surin said ASEAN hoped to see the elections serve as “a mechanism of true national reconciliation” that would make Yangon “more confident in engaging with the world”.

“We are all waiting for the election with keen interest bordering on anxiety,” he said.

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