Thursday, April 25, 2013

ASEAN members exercise restraint, preserve good relations

By exercising restraint in dealing with issues including China’s maritime incursions, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has kept its cohesion and preserved good relations among members, according to the Philippine representative to the regional bloc.

“The members of ASEAN, they exercise restraint, they look for peaceful ways to settle their bilateral problems,” Philippine Ambassador to ASEAN Elizabeth Buensuceso said in an interview here on Tuesday.

“Very recently, our relations with Malaysia – despite the volatility of the situation or the possibility that it might erupt into something worse, it did not, because there is ASEAN,” she said, apparently referring to Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram’s sending of armed supporters to Lahad Datu in Sabah to press his claim on the territory.

“You saw the conflict between Thailand and Cambodia  – without ASEAN there would have been war. And this, for me, is a very important achievement of ASEAN,” she said.

The Philippines has chosen not to bring up the Sabah issue during the summit here. President Aquino has also not arranged bilateral meetings with other leaders.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak will be represented by Tan Sri Abu Zahar Ujang, Malaysia’s Senate president.

Foreign Affairs spokesperson Raul Hernandez said the Sabah issue is considered a bilateral one “so this will not go to the meetings of ASEAN.”

Hernandez squelched speculation that the issue was deliberately being avoided.

“I think it’s more because of the short period of this summit. People are busy and this is actually a very short summit and not like the one that we had last November. So I think this is more of the time consideration that has been put in place,” he said. 

While ASEAN had tackled border problems between Thailand and Cambodia, Myanmar  and the state of the Rohingya, Hernandez said “it would also depend on the chairman which areas and which items would they consider to be part of the agenda of the summit.”

Hernandez said Brunei Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah did not discuss the Sabah issue with Aquino during his state visit to the Philippines last week.

Malaysian forces are still hunting remnants of Kiram’s armed followers in Lahad Datu. Malaysia had been accused of using excessive force in flushing out Kiram’s followers.  The Kirams had also asked for help from Brunei.

The President earlier ordered a study on the country’s Sabah claim even as he stressed that the issue must be resolved peacefully. Thousands of Filipinos have been displaced because of the violence and the Philippine government has expressed fears that relations with Malaysia may be affected.

Kuala Lumpur is brokering the peace talks between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The two sides signed a framework agreement in October last year, an event witnessed by Razak himself at Malacañang.-The Philippine Star (April 25, 2013)

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