Burma to skip ASEAN chairmanship because of national problems

Foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) say the military government of Burma has agreed to forego its turn as chairman of the group next year. The ministers made the announcement Tuesday in Laos, ending months of speculation.

An official statement issued Tuesday said Burma had asked to postpone its turn as ASEAN chairman in order to focus on national reconciliation and democratization - a process announced two years ago, which the Burmese government says will bring democracy.

The statement expressed gratitude for Rangoon's decision, and said Burma could take its turn as chairman when it is ready to do so.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has been divided for months over whether Burma should assume the rotating chairmanship as scheduled next year, according to Voice of America.

Foreign ministers from Burma and the other ASEAN countries agreed during their retreat today in the Laotian capital to defer Burma’s chairmanship, Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said.

Another south-east Asian diplomat also said that Burma had agreed to defer the alphabetically-rotated post.

The diplomat said next-in-line Philippines would be ready to take over.

The issue came to a head in Laos this week during the group’s annual ministerial meeting that runs through until Friday, followed by the ASEAN Regional Forum - a security dialogue with 14 other governments with interests in the region, such as the US, EU, Russia and China, reports IOL.

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