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Southeast Asian Nations and Partners Focus on Development

Southeast Asian governments attending an annual meeting in the Philippines are pushing for faster economic growth in the less-developed countries of the region. VOA's Heda Bayron reports from Cebu, where Asian leaders are gathering for a regional summit.

While repression in Burma and the North Korean nuclear issue have dominated talks of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, over the past two days, Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo of host nation the Philippines said Friday the summit declaration to be signed Saturday by leaders of the 10 ASEAN member nations would address development issues.

"We will reinforce our commitment to address the key common concerns of our people…improving social conditions…and upgrading the quality of life through greater development," he said."

ASEAN wants to create a common market by 2015, but economic experts say some of the poorer members might find it difficult to catch up with their more developed neighbors.

Leaders of ASEAN's poorest members - Cambodia, Laos, Burma and Vietnam - held their own summit Friday to discuss enhancing cross-border trade and other development issues.

In addition, leaders of Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines met Friday to try to bring investment momentum back to the eastern part of the region, under an agreement they reached in 1994.

Officials describe this sector of Southeast Asia as crucial to the stability of the entire region. It has seen a rise in Islamic militancy and terrorism that, officials say, has hurt the flow of investments.

ASEAN's dialogue partners in East Asia also made commitments to development. Australia announced Friday it will contribute five million dollars to fight infectious diseases such as bird flu, targeting countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Burma and Thailand.

Australian Trade Minister Warren Truss says the money will be used to improve regional and national laboratories, training response teams and other services.

"We believe that this initiative will help enhance the work already being done," he said.

China has reaffirmed its commitment to help countries along the Mekong River improve transportation systems.

ASEAN leaders on Saturday will sign documents protecting migrant workers, promoting greater cooperation in the fight against HIV-AIDS and boosting energy security.

The leaders of China, South Korea, Japan, India, East Timor, Australia and New Zealand will join the 10 Southeast Asian leaders on Sunday and Monday.