‘Momentous’ day for ASEAN as charter comes into force

December 16, 2008 - 0:0

JAKARTA (AFP) – The Association of Southeast Asian Nations took a major step towards becoming an EU-style community on Monday with the passing into force of a new charter setting benchmarks for democracy.

The charter sets out rules of membership, transforms ASEAN into a legal entity and envisages a single free trade area by 2015 for the region of 500 million people.
It came into force with a meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers at the bloc’s Jakarta secretariat, 30 days after Thailand became the last member to deposit its ratifying documents.
“This is a momentous development when ASEAN is consolidating, integrating and transforming itself into a community,” Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said.
“It is achieved while ASEAN seeks a more vigorous role in Asian and global affairs at a time when the international system is experiencing a seismic shift,” he added, referring to climate change and economic upheaval.
“Southeast Asia is no longer the bitterly divided, war-torn region it was in the 1960s and 1970s.”
ASEAN consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
The charter was supposed to have been activated at a summit in Thailand this month but that meeting was postponed by a domestic political crisis which has underscored the fragility of democracy and human rights across the region.
Thai Information Minister Mun Patanotai presided over the presentation ceremony as representative of the bloc’s current chair, as the country lacks a foreign minister to do the job.
Thai lawmakers on Monday elected opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva as the country’s third prime minister in four months after half a year of crippling protests.