PHUKET, THAILAND // South-east Asian foreign ministers began talks in Thailand today, with counter-terrorism expected to be high on the agenda after last week's suicide bombings in the Indonesian capital Jakarta. The ministers from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) were also due to formally agree terms for the creation of a commission on human rights, which has already been met with scepticism by analysts and rights groups.
Thai foreign minister Kasit Piromya said late yesterday there was a "maximum consensus" in ASEAN about the commission, which would take into account the "special circumstances" of the 10 member countries, which include military-ruled Myanmar. Some 10,000 troops have enforced a no-protest zone around the venue in the resort of Phuket to prevent an embarrassing repeat of the last regional gathering in Thailand, when anti-government demonstrators breached security to scuttle the East Asia Summit, forcing half the leaders to be evacuated by helicopter.
The meeting comes ahead of Asia's biggest annual security gathering, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which takes place on Thursday and where concerns over North Korea's recent military moves are likely to take centre stage. Those talks will include the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as well as foreign ministers from North Asia and officials from the European Union and Russia. Thai officials have said they expect the United States to join the ASEAN Treaty on Amity and Co-operation this week, a move that would signal Washington's renewed engagement with South-east Asia.