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Southeast Asian Leaders Chart New Direction for Regional Group


Southeast Asian leaders have agreed to create a tighter political and economic bloc, signed a pact on terrorism and set a goal to become a free-trade zone by 2015.

In the central Philippines city of Cebu Saturday, leaders of the Association of South East Asian Nation signed the outline of a charter that will transform the 10-nation organization into a rules-based grouping similar to the European Union.

The charter will create a mechanism for members to settle disputes and impose sanctions. It will also allow for the expulsion of member-states that violate association agreements and resolutions.

ASEAN leaders also signed the region's first anti-terrorism pact. The accord legally obligates their countries to share intelligence information, and extradite suspects from one member country to another.

The accord seeks to make it easier for ASEAN nations to track suspects and money across borders.

Trade was another major topic for the leaders. They moved up their goal to create a free-trade zone by five years (to 2015 instead of 2020).

They also called for a resumption of the stalled World Trade Organization talks.

ASEAN leaders informally considered Burma's stalled democratic reform process. Under new rules, Burma could face punishment if it continues to renege on a pledge it made to fellow member-states to implement democratic reforms.

The group's meeting was postponed last month amid warnings by foreign governments of a terror strike, although the Philippines said the summit was delayed because of an approaching typhoon.
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