Sun, Jul 24, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Laos seals off capital for ASEAN security meeting

AP , VIENTIANE

Lao workers raise the flags of North Korea, left, South Korea, center, and Laos outside the main meeting hall for the 38th ASEAN meeting in Vientiane, Laos, yesterday.

PHOTO: AP

Laos sealed off its capital to keep out troublemakers yesterday as delegates began arriving for Asia's biggest annual security conference, aimed at fighting terrorism and likely to delve into a dispute over Myanmar's democratic record.

"Terrorism has continued to pose a threat to every corner of the world," Laotian Foreign Minister Somsavat Lengsavad said.

The conference, opening today, "will give high importance on boosting closer and active cooperation on fighting against international terrorism," he said.

Southeast Asian nations also want Myanmar to meet US and European demands to liberalize and release pro-democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest or forgo its scheduled chairmanship late next year of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Myanmar will be on the spot during the coming week to announce whether or not it will step aside, said Kitti Wasinondh, the Thai foreign ministry's top ASEAN official.

The ministers' conference in the Laotian capital groups ASEAN's core Southeast Asian members with other key Asia-Pacific countries. Senior officials start talks today and meetings wrap up this Friday when 24 nations hold the ASEAN Regional Forum -- the region's biggest annual security meeting.

Long-insular Laos is hosting what is only its second such international gathering following a summit last November of ASEAN's leaders, and expects the coming week's conference to be "safe, great and successful," Somsavat said.

"The venue, facilities and security in Vientiane are now perfectly ready. Preparations for the security and convenience of VIP delegates are as good as for the ASEAN summit," he said.

Laotian officials have clamped down on travel between Vientiane and outlying provinces to keep out "troublemakers": local code for the Hmong militants usually blamed for the rare bombings that rock the capital. During the November conference, two blasts struck an unused government satellite receiver outside the capital. Nobody claimed responsibility.

"Trucks and passengers buses are not allowed to enter the capital and all the land borders are closed. Security forces and village volunteers must monitor the movements of troublemakers to ensure they don't get into the capital," Laotian state radio instructed listeners yesterday.

Three-wheeled motorcycle taxis, considered an eyesore for the visiting VIPs, also will banned from the streets starting on Wednesday.

Pakistan, New Zealand and South Korea are expected to sign ASEAN's pact on cooperation in the fight against international terrorism during the conference, Kitti said.

New Zealand and Mongolia are also expected to sign up to a non-aggression pact that has been signed by ASEAN's 10 members plus China, Russia, Japan, India, Pakistan, South Korea and Papua New Guinea.

Australia has in the past shunned the treaty, but in recent weeks Canberra has given signals it may join. Asian neighbors have made it a prerequisite if Canberra wants to join next December's inaugural East Asia Summit in Malaysia.

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