PHNOM PENH, April 2 (BSS/AFP) - Asian foreign ministers on Monday welcomed Myanmar's "orderly" elections as they met ahead of a regional summit that will also be dominated by North Korea's planned rocket launch and maritime disputes.
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) foreign ministers held talks in Phnom Penh after historic by-elections in member-state Myanmar appeared to give opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi her first seat in parliament.
ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said Sunday's polls,
in which Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy claimed 43 of
the 44 seats up for grabs, seemed to have gone well despite
claims of irregularities.
He said it was too early to determine whether the vote was
free and fair, but ASEAN observers were "very encouraged by the
orderly manner of this important democratic exercise".
It was ASEAN's hope that the vote would contribute to the
"reintegration of Myanmar into the global community", Surin said
after the ministers' meeting.
Myanmar Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin told his
counterparts the vote "has gone rather smoothly, orderly and the
participation has been very high," Surin said.
Suu Kyi hailed a "victory of the people" but warned against
triumphalism after her apparent win in elections seen as a test
of the regime's reforms.
Over the past 12 months Myanmar's quasi-civilian government,
led by President Thein Sein, has freed hundreds of political
prisoners, eased media restrictions and welcomed the opposition
back to the political fold.
At the last ASEAN summit in November, the country was
rewarded for its efforts by being promised the bloc's
chairmanship in 2014.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa welcomed the
by- elections as "an opportunity for Myanmar to make the reform
process even more irreversible". Philippine Foreign Secretary
Albert del Rosario said they were a "vindication of the global
community that believed that Myanmar could pursue this
democratisation track effectively".
The European Union has indicated it is looking at easing
sanctions imposed on Myanmar in the mid-1990s over the regime's
long history of human rights abuses, and foreign investors are
lining up to do business in the country.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking to reporters
in Turkey, said Sunday the elections were "heartening" but urged
the government to improve transparency and deal with polling
"It is too early to know what the progress of recent months
means and whether it will be sustained," she said.
Suu Kyi herself said ahead of the polls that they could not
be considered genuinely democratic due to widespread problems
such as intimidation of voters.
ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia,
Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam -- a
grouping of nearly 600 million people of hugely disparate
economic, development and political systems.
Del Rosario said the ministers spoke with one voice against
North Korea's planned rocket launch, which Pyongyang describes as
a bid to send a satellite into orbit but which the United States
and others see as a missile test.
The Philippines -- which lies beneath the rocket's proposed
flight path -- has lodged formal protests with Pyongyang's
representatives at the United Nations, in China and at ASEAN.
"I think the countries that spoke on the topic... were all
of the opinion that we should be discouraging (North Korea) from
undertaking that launch," Del Rosario said.
ASEAN's two-day summit begins Tuesday.
The bloc has often been dismissed as a talking shop but it
has assumed new strategic importance in light of Washington's
foreign policy "pivot" to Asia and the economic rise of China in
Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Phnom Penh on the eve of
the summit, amid tensions between Beijing and several ASEAN
member states over rival territorial claims in the potentially
resource-rich South China Sea.
The Philippines, which has recently expanded military ties
with its treaty ally the United States, has joined Vietnam in
accusing China of taking an increasingly aggressive posture in
But Del Rosario said a proposed Code of Conduct could be
finalised this year, a decade after China and ASEAN agreed to
craft a set of rules to avoid small incidents escalating into
During Indonesia's chairmanship of ASEAN least year, the
regional bloc and China agreed on a set of guidelines for the
proposed code, ending a nine-year impasse.