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AIPO adjourns empty-handed

AIPO adjourns empty-handed

Critics called it a disorganized, overpriced junket that achieved very little, while

others said it was a useful meet-and-greet for members of Southeast Asia's parliaments.

Whatever it was, the 25th ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Organization (AIPO) wrapped up

in Phnom Penh on September 16 with modest progress on the list of mostly uncontroversial

agenda items.

Cambodia played host to ASEAN members Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, the Philippines,

Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, with the Union of Myanmar and Brunei Darussalam

given special observer status, allowing them to vote on resolutions.

Aspiring ASEAN member East Timor was considered a "special guest" of AIPO

and a range of observer countries held dialogues with ASEAN parliamentarians.

Tangible benefits were hard to measure, but most draft resolutions on politics, economics,

social and organizational matters were approved and moved up the bureaucratic ladder

to be further considered in other ASEAN forums.

Prince Norodom Ranariddh, in his last duty as the rotating president of opposition

parliamentarian and AIPO participant Son Chhay were less generous.

"No one questions the outcomes of AIPO... [because] nothing comes out of it,"

said Chhay, saying delegates complained about the lack of organization, high costs

and bad food at the meeting.

"We cannot just agree on what the [ASEAN] executive has agreed on or talked

about," said Chhay. "We are members of parliament, we should talk about

how we can make our governments more accountable, strengthen our institutions and

take hold of issues such as drug and child trafficking."

Two of the more significant achievements were made by 30 women parliamentarians of

AIPO (known as WAIPO), who met a day before the week-long talks began to discuss

women's rights and human trafficking.

They passed a resolution to create new laws or bolster existing legislation on the

illegal trade of people for sexual or labor exploitation and to better coordinate

efforts amongst ASEAN's police, courts, NGOs, international agencies and migration

and social authorities.

Improving livelihoods and promoting gender equality was considered critical to keeping

women out of the clutches of human traffickers in the first place and so WAIPO approved

a resolution to promote women's access to education, legal rights, land ownership

and protection.

Once the main meeting kicked off, the Philippines delegation parted with neighborly

niceties to offer a strongly worded opening statement demanding that AIPO prove itself

to be of a concrete benefit to participants.

"Our country, as you know, is in the midst of a financial crisis... and it has

become more and more difficult for us to justify our attendance at what many of our

people are beginning to criticize as a 26-year old 'talk shop'," said spokesman,

Jose De Venecia Jnr.

"That is why we ask this Assembly to approve - if only in principle - three

key proposals in regional cooperation that have been before it for sometime now,"

said Venecia.

The Philippines wish list included the proposal of an ASEAN Anti-Poverty Fund, further

consideration of an ASEAN university and the creation of an ASEAN Parliament, an

idea that has been on the AIPO agenda since 1980.

AIPO delegates urged the next ASEAN Summit to consider a Study Committee Report on

developing an ASEAN-wide poverty fund to assist poorest members, namely Cambodia,

Laos and Myanmar, an idea already endorsed at the previous AIPO meeting.

The idea of setting up an ASEAN university to give the brightest students the chance

to gain top qualifications without leaving Southeast Asia was supported and moved

forward at a bureaucratic snail's pace.

"The Assembly recommended submitting to the ASEAN Summit a recommendation to

conduct a thorough evaluation of the achievements and realized potentials of the

ASEAN University Network as a step towards considering the establishment of an ASEAN

University," stated the final report on social matters.

When, after 24 years in the making, the idea of an ASEAN Parliament was allocated

another study committee who would work out a clear mandate for themselves and present

it at the next AIPO meeting, observers could empathize with the frustration of the

Philippines.

Cambodia had two of its main economic proposals knocked back.

A request to set up micro-credit and other financial institutions to assist agricultural

enterprises in less developed member nations was rejected because delegates thought

it was too similar to the anti-poverty fund proposal.

Another Cambodian initiative, to establish a cultural and eco-tourism center in the

Kingdom was watered down to appointing a committee to study means of promoting eco-tourism

and culture in the region.

However, the passing of a resolution encouraging the richer ASEAN members to help

boost agricultural yields through the transfer of technology may have some benefit

for Cambodia in the future.

Cai Dao protesters deported

Twelve members of the religious sect Cai Dao were ar-rested and later deported after

entering Cambodia illegally from Vietnam to protest at the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary

Organization (AIPO) meeting against alleged persecution.
The six women and six men wore white robes and carried a petition claiming the Vietnamese

government restricted their movements and right to worship, calling on the United

Nations to take action.

They were arrested outside the AIPO venue and held by Cambodian authorities for several

days before being deported to Vietnam on September 17.

The Vietnamese embassy would not comment on the incident, saying all authorized spokespeople

were out of the country.

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