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Trade, Myanmar dominate summit

REGIONAL trade and the fate of jailed Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi dominated talks between US president Barack Obama and regional leaders at the inaugural US-ASEAN summit in Singapore on Sunday, overshadowing the recent dispute between Cambodia and Thailand.

Kao Kim Hourn, secretary of state at Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the diplomatic spat over Phnom Penh’s appointment of Thai former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra as an economic adviser was not raised during the official talks, but that Prime Minister Hun Sen and Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono spoke about the issue in sideline talks on Sunday.

“Indonesia just wanted to know the current situation between Cambodia and Thailand,” Kao Kim Hourn told reporters at Phnom Penh International Airport following his return from Singapore, adding the Hun Sen and Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva did not have the time to meet for discussions on the issue, which has caused relations between the two nations to deteriote rapidly in recent weeks.

Kao Kim Hourn said much of the discussion centred on the importance of trade between ASEAN and the US in a time of global financial uncertainty.

“For the US, ASEAN is an important partner for trade and investment,” he said.

“The leaders of ASEAN and the US want to see trade and investment increase on both sides.”

Kao Kim Hourn said Prime Minister Hun Sen raised the issue of the global financial crisis and urged all ASEAN countries to work with the US to find a solution to strengthen trade and investment, including tourism.

During talks, US President Barack Obama also appealed to military-ruled Myanmar to release all of its political prisoners, including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, and expressed hopes that an election scheduled for next year is conducted in a free, fair and transparent manner.

“I reaffirmed the policy that I put forward yesterday in Tokyo with regard to Burma,” Obama told reporters, using the former name of the country that has kept Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for most of the past two decades.

Although the Cambodia-Thailand dispute was not raised at the summit, Foreign Ministry officials say the government remains conducive to a multilateral solution to the current impasse.

“We can accept any kind of solution – bilateral, multilateral, regional or international,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said on Sunday. “It’s up to the Thai side. We welcome any solution, so long as the Thais agree.”

Bangkok continues to oppose the prospect of third-party mediation, saying it has a “long-standing policy” of addressing the Cambodia issue bilaterally. Thani Thongphakdi, deputy spokesman of the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Thailand saw “no need” to regionalise the issue because it poses no threat to the region.

“The issue is one which is evolving rather rapidly, and we are following the Cambodian side to see how they will proceed on the issue,” he said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP

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