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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 July 2006, 12:54 GMT 13:54 UK
Asean concerned at N Korea test
Ministers from the 10 member nations at the opening ceremony
Asean ministers are meeting in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur
South East Asian nations have expressed concern over North Korea's missile tests and urged a return to talks on its nuclear programme.

The appeal came in a joint statement issued after a meeting of Asean foreign ministers in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.

The tests could affect regional peace and stability, the statement said.

The grouping has also criticised Israel's action in Lebanon and called for a tough stance on the issue.

Foreign ministers from the 10 countries which make up Asean (the Association of South East Asian Nations) are holding talks in Malaysia until the weekend.

They will be joined later in the week by participants from other Asian nations for the Asean Regional Forum.

Asean members

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to attend the conference on Thursday, after her trip to the Middle East. Officials say North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sun will also take part.

Representatives from the other four nations participating in talks with North Korea - China, Russia, South Korea and Japan - will also be present, raising the possibility of informal talks on the nuclear issue.

But it is not clear whether North Korea will agree. South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said he had proposed a meeting with his North counterpart, but received no confirmation of it.

On Monday, the Malaysian foreign minister said the North was unwilling to join six-nation talks, and the country's state news agency KCNA accused Ms Rice of reacting like a "political imbecile" to its missile tests

In the joint statement, Asean urged the six dialogue partners to "utilise their presence during the ARF to promote the resumption of the talks".

The statement comes as South Korea dropped its military alert level which had been raised since the missile tests of 5 July. A Defence Ministry official told the Associated Press news agency there were no signs of imminent additional launches.

Middle East call

Earlier, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who opened the Asean conference, criticised Israel's operations in Lebanon.

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi delivers his opening speech
Malaysia is the current chair of the Asean grouping

"We should not tolerate Israel's excessive military reprisals," he said, calling developments there a threat to international peace.

In a statement late on Monday, Asean ministers called for an immediate ceasefire in the Middle East, and expressed concern over the "disproportionate, indiscriminate and excessive use of force by Israel" in Lebanon and occupied Palestinian territories.

Asean's members include the world's most populous Muslim nation Indonesia and mainly Muslim Malaysia.

The Asean meeting is also expected to focus on the issue of Burma and its lack of progress towards democratic reform, as well as the prolonged detention of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Asean has come under intense pressure from the US and Europe to persuade Burma to move forward along the path to democratic change.

But according to the BBC correspondent in Kuala Lumpur, Jonathan Kent, reports suggest that Asean might sidestep the issue, and water down a statement criticising the country's military government.

Chinese and Japanese foreign ministers are also due to meet on the sidelines of the conference, to discuss their strained bilateral relations.

Burma 'holding SE Asia hostage'
21 Jul 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Asian group raps Burma on rights
12 Dec 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Asean: Changing, but only slowly
08 Oct 03 |  Asia-Pacific

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