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ASEAN must dump non-intervention po

ASEAN must dump non-intervention policy and work out its problems: Thailand

AFP, Bangkok, 22 June 2000.  ASEAN members must dump their cherished
tradition of non-interference in each other's affairs or risk never 
resolving the
differences that could drive them apart, Thailand's deputy foreign minister 

"They won't be able to hold on to the notion that a non-interference policy 
always be sacred," Sukhumbhand Paribatra told a seminar on the Association
of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) here Wednesday.

"It is essential that members do their utmost to make themselves acceptable
in the eyes of the international community," he said in comments reported by
local papers Wednesday and confirmed by his office.

"No one can live in isolation. Otherwise, regional integration will not be 
to move forward."

The change would allow the grouping to strengthen internally and cope with
future challenges and outside interference, he said.

Thailand is pushing at the seminar on "ASEAN in the New Millennium",
held ahead of a meeting of the group's foreign ministers here next month,
for an ASEAN troika to mediate in conflicts between member states.

Sukhumbhand said ASEAN members must understand that problems
affecting regional countries can no longer be confined within their borders.

"Problems in one country can affect another, be it economic, environmental,
transnational crime, drug trafficking and public health," he said.

ASEAN faces a major image problem thanks to a series of stumbles and
omissions that critics cite as evidence that it has become increasingly 

It was slammed for failing to predict the 1997 financial crisis that 
enveloped the
region, and for doing little to fend off the contagion when it came, or to 
assist in

And it was accused of thrusting Australia into the role of the region's chief
peacekeeper by failing to form a joint position on the carnage in East Timor
last year.

Another problem came with the admission of Myanmar in 1997 despite bitter
objections by Western nations who accuse the ruling military of widespread
human rights abuses.

The inclusion effectively blocked inter-regional ministerial talks between
ASEAN and the European Union, which refuses to grant visas to Yangon

But Sukhumbhand defended the role of the grouping, which now embraces
Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines,
Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

He said it played an important role in uniting a region that had once been
described as the "Oriental Balkans."

The director of the Thai foreign ministry's East Asia department, Surapong
Jayanama said ASEAN members had agreed during the Cold War era to
shelve their differences for the sale of regional unity and security.

Now, however, those differences were become more visible and potentially
more troublesome. Overcoming them was a major obstacle to regional
integration, he told the conference.

Former Philippines president Fidel Ramos has also voiced support for
abandoning the non-intervention policy, saying it was a relic of the early
years of the grouping when the priority was to build mutual confidence.

But now, Ramos said, this "seems to have hobbled the association,
preventing it from taking purposeful action."

Thailand and the Philippines have taken on a more prominent role within
ASEAN since Indonesia, once the "big brother" of the association, became
mired in turmoil following the departure of president Suharto.