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Myanmar agrees to human-rights body

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  • Human-rights commission is integral part of landmark ASEAN charter
  • ASEAN human-rights code faces differing interpretations, laws
  • ASEAN leaders are to have summit in November
  • Philippine President Gloria Macapagal calls for regional unity
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MANILA, Philippines (Reuters) -- Southeast Asian foreign ministers overcame differences on Monday on setting up a human-rights commission after military-ruled Myanmar dropped objections to the plan, participants said.

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Myanmar's Foreign Minister U Nyan Win, center, is escorted upon arriving in Manila on Sunday.

The issue had created a rift within the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and threatened to divert attention from the group's efforts at economic integration.

"We have agreed to create the human-rights body," Singapore's Foreign Minister George Yeo told reporters after the first session of an ASEAN ministerial meeting in the Philippine capital. "At the ministers' level we have a consensus. Myanmar had a positive attitude towards all of this."

He said the ministers had yet to decide on terms of reference and other specifics, but would do so soon.

The human-rights commission is an integral part of a landmark charter that ASEAN is trying to complete before a leaders' summit in November. Until Sunday, diplomats had said Myanmar and some other countries had blocked the establishment of the commission.

But other problems confront ASEAN over the former Burma. The European Union, which ASEAN hopes to emulate, and the United States have criticized the Asian group for failing to bring enough pressure on Myanmar to restore democracy and free Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Earlier on Monday, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo called for unity in the region and a focus on its goal of economic integration by 2015.

"An ASEAN community is going to be anchored first and foremost on economic integration, with a focus on social justice and raising the standard of living in the region," she said while inaugurating the meeting.

"It is about creating a dynamic force in Asia to maximize the benefit of globalization. Too much has been made of our diversity as a barrier. Our diversity is a strength and not a barrier to an East Asian union."

ASEAN is also divided on whether it should abandon its time-honored way of resolving issues by consensus or put them to a vote. It has also to take a decision on how to penalize members who violate the charter.

Yeo, the Singaporean minister, said these issues would be left for the leaders' summit to decide.

Analysts however say the idea of an ASEAN human-rights code will be difficult to achieve given the differing interpretations of the term within the group and stricter anti-terrorism laws across the region.

"The best that ASEAN can achieve in its landmark charter is a best-efforts pledge to work for adherence to human rights," said columnist Ana Marie Pamintuan in the Philippine Star newspaper.

"The charter provision will have to be vaguely worded, or several laws used to fight terrorism could be considered violations." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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