MANILA, AUGUST 3, 2007 (BULLETIN) By CHARISSA M. LUCI - The Philippines yesterday officially handed over the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Standing Committee (ASC) to Singapore, ending Manila’s hosting of the 40th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM), the Post Ministerial Conferences (PMC) and the 14th ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).

With the Philippines at the head of the ASC, the ASEAN took "bold steps" towards economic and socio-political integration with the formulation of a landmark Charter and the adoption of documents aimed at improving the welfare of ASEAN peoples, strengthening relations with dialogue partners, and establishing peace and security in the region, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo said during the closing ceremony of the ASEAN meetings.

The ASEAN Charter making the 40-year old bloc a "rules-based" organization is expected to be submit in November during the 13th ASEAN Leaders Summit which will be hosted by the Singapore as the new ASC chairman.

Before relinquishing the ASEAN chairmanship, Romulo called on his colleagues from nine other Southeast Asian countries to "build a stronger ASEAN" by continuously engaging with dialogue partners, including Australia, Japan, South Korea, China, New Zealand, India, Russia , Canada , the United States , and the European Union (EU).

ASEAN is composed of the Philippines, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia , and Thailand.

Romulo expressed confidence that the ASEAN, with Singapore as the new chairman, would bring the Southeast Asian nations’ relations with their dialogue partners into a higher plane.

Receiving the ASEAN chairmanship, Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo said Singapore would follow the "competence" of the Philippines in leading the 10 Southeast Asian nations as he hailed Romulo for successfully hosting the meetings.

Yeo said Singaporean leadership would focus on three C’s—facing challenges, the Charter, and community-building.

He said Singapore "will work shoulder to shoulder" with all ASEAN member states to tackle various issues in the region, including terrorism, climate change, the Middle East peace crisis, denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, energy security, and inter-cultural dialogues.

United States Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill commended the Philippines’ hosting of the ASEAN meeting.

Also yesterday, the 27 Foreign Ministers participating in the ASEAN security forum expressed solidarity in calling "for the immediate, unconditional and safe release" of 21 remaining South Korean hostages from their Taliban captors in Afghanistan.

"We express the hope that the hostages and their families will find the strength to face this ordeal, while at the same time expressing the hope that they will soon be reunited," the foreign ministers said in a joint statement adopted during the security conference.

They also strongly deplored the brutal killing of two South Korean nationals.

"We share the grief and sorrow of the family and friends of the murder victims and the concern and heartache of the loved ones of the remaining hostages," they said.

The ARF adopted the guidelines on disaster relief assistance; the Terms of Reference of the Friends of the Chair which seeks preventive diplomacy in settling East Asia regional disputes; the United Nations security resolution 1540 that mandates the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the region, and the 11-page ASEAN Chairman’s statement, in which the 27 foreign ministers "agreed to continue to observe in good faith the basic principles of decisionmaking by consensus and non-interference."

"The Ministers expressed their satisfaction with the open dialogue regarding the progress of the ARF process and committed to further advancing the ARF process towards the preventive diplomacy stage and beyond, on the basis of consensus and at a pace comfortable to all, while continuing to build mutual confidence and trust among its participants," the Chairman’s statement said.

The foreign ministers also expressed support for the "peaceful resolution" of the nuclear issue through dialogue and negotiation, saying that the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is essential in maintaining the peace and stability in the Asia Pacific.

They also called for the "continued exercise of selfrestraint by all parties concerned and the promotion of confidence building measures in the area as they pledged commitment "to resolving disputes in the South China Sea by peaceful means."

The foreign ministers expressed "deep concern" over the Middle East peace crisis, saying there is a "need for substantial pogress in the quest for a just, lasting and comprehensive peace" in the region.

They also reiterated calls to Myanmar for the early release of detained political prisoners and urged the military-junta leading the country to "show tangible progress that would lead to a peaceful transition to democracy in the near future."

The foreign ministers also endorsed the implementation of the ARF Cooperation Framework on Counterterrorism and Transnational Crime to wage war against global terrorism.

In the statement, the 10 Southeast Asian nations welcomed the eventual accession of the European Union to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, a non-aggression pact.

The Foreign Ministers also welcomed the admission of Sri Lanka as the 27th participant of the ARF, which is committed to help contribute to the peace and stability in the region.

Aside from the ASEAN member-countries and 10 dialogue partners, also at the meetings were Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Mongolia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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