Asia sets stage for disaster relief exercise with key powers

WASHINGTON, July 13, 2008 (AFP) – After much debate, Asia is finally expected to agree to hold its first civilian-military disaster relief exercise with key powers such as the United States, Russia and the European Union. It will set the stage for real emergency response to disasters, such as the recent cyclone that ravaged Myanmar and left 138,000 dead or missing as its ruling military junta came under strong criticism for blocking aid efforts.

An upcoming ministerial meeting in Singapore of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), Asia’s top security forum, may agree to hold the disaster relief exercise among its 27 member nations as early as 2009, a US official said.

ARF senior officials agreed in May to conduct such an exercise that could pave the way for militaries of ASEAN, China, India, the United States, Russia and EU member states to help coordinate a disaster relief response.

“So, I hope that at this meeting, we can move that to the next stage — to the point it is agreed and planning begins so that it could actually happen as early as next year,” US envoy to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Scot Marciel told AFP.

“I know next year sounds like a long time away but in the ARF world, it