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ASEAN Vows EU-Like Bloc by 2015, Frets on Myanmar
Filed at 4:24 a.m. ET
CHA-AM, Thailand (AP) -- Southeast Asian leaders vowed Sunday to push ahead with ambitious plans to become a European Union-style economic community by 2015 despite roadblocks posed by the global financial crisis and Myanmar's dismal human rights record.
The 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations concluded its 14th annual summit with a statement saying leaders had agreed to refrain from imposing new trade barriers and would stand firm against protectionism in their quest to create a single market in the next seven years.
The statement also called for ''bold and urgent reform of the international financial system'' that would take into account the needs of developing nations.
As the export-dependant nations of ASEAN grappled with the region's pressing economic woes, the bloc was forced, yet again, to confront the democratic shortcomings of Myanmar, whose military junta has ignored global demands to free an estimated 2,100 political prisoners, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
The summit was the first since the group signed a landmark charter in December that makes ASEAN a legal entity, like the EU, and moves it a step closer to its goal of integration.
The meeting aimed to highlight the charter's championship of human rights, but the issue suffered a setback when Myanmar and Cambodia refused to hold prearranged talks Saturday with pro-democracy activists from their countries.
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said the leaders held an ''open discussion'' with Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein about the country's so-called roadmap to democracy, which is supposed to culminate in elections next year -- the first in almost two decades.
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Scot Marciel said no one has come up with a viable strategy to reform Myanmar's entrenched military regime.
''The sanctions based approach hasn't worked, the ASEAN engagement approach hasn't worked,'' Marciel said, reiterating recent comments by Hillary Rodham Clinton, the U.S. secretary of state. ''There isn't any obvious way ahead.''
Myanmar made no public statement during the summit.
ASEAN's goal of forming a single market mainly involves lifting trade barriers but not, at this point, adopting a common currency.
The closing statement said leaders ''reaffirmed their commitment to implement measures adopted in the ASEAN Economic Blueprint,'' which calls for economic and some political and security integration by 2015, adding that the scope for regional cooperation must be expanded.
''All of us are of one mind that we are anti-protectionism,'' Malaysia's Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi told reporters.
Philippine Trade Secretary Peter Favila told The Associated Press there was reluctance to push ahead with the goal of dropping all trade barriers by 2015.
''But those are just sentiments,'' Favila said. ''You know everybody has to follow the leaders' instructions: Do it by 2015.''
ASEAN's 10 members include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The bloc encompasses a region of more than 500 million people, including two communist regimes, two constitutional monarchies, a military dictatorship and fledgling democracies.
------Associated Press writers Jim Gomez and Ambika Ahuja contributed to this report.