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Asean defiant on Myanmar (The Asian
Subject: Asean defiant on Myanmar (The Asian Age, 2/12/96.)
Asean defiant on Myanmar
Ministers blast Portugal over stand on East Timor
The Asian Age, 2/12/96.
BY RAJU GOPALAKRISHNAN
Jakarta, Dec. 1: South-East Asian leaders defied Western
pressure on human rights issues, saying they will admit Burma
to the Asean group of nations and blasted Portugal for its
opposition to Indonesian rule in East Timor.
A summit meeting of the seven members of the Association of
South-East Asian Nations said observer nations Burma, Laos
and Cambodia will be granted full membership simultaneously
but stopped short of saying when.
A joint declaration issued at the end of the summit, billed as an.
"informal" meeting, also said it 11 noted with increasing
concern the efforts of one member of the EU to introduce
extraneous issues such as the question of East Timor in the
economic co-operation and interaction between Asean and the
"It's Portugal," foreign minister Ali Alatas of host nation
Indonesia later told reporters. "It is making the East Timor
issue a condition for Asean-EU co-operation. They have failed
to achieve their purpose so far but it has become increasingly an
irritant in the relationship between Asean and the EU. It is
unnecessarily and unwarrantedly aggravating the relationship."
He said Indonesia had raised the issue at the summit and "got
full support from all the other heads of government of Asean ".
Asean also groups Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore,
Thailand and Vietnam.
Indonesia invaded East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, in
1975 and annexed it a year later in an act not recognised by the
United Nations. Portugal has been one of the leading critics of
Indonesia's human rights record in the territory and has said
East Timor must be allowed self-determination.
The EU and the United States have also pressured Asean to at
least delay granting full membership to Burma, saying that not
doing so would be tantamount to approval of the Rangoon
military government's crackdown on the pro-democracy
movement led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and human
Notwithstanding some disquiet on the issue among some of its
leaders in the past month, Asean has maintained that its policy
of constructive engagement with Rangoon is the best way to
achieve political reform and that isolating the nation could be
counter-productive. It has also said that it rejects external
pressure on the membership issue.
"The Myanmar of today is not the Myanmar of the past,"
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told reporters. "It
is because of our constructive engagement that it has changed.
If anyone says constructive engagement has not had a
constructive effect, must be blind."
Burmese military leader Genera] Than Shwe attended the
meeting, but avoided speaking to the press. Foreign minister
Ohn Gyaw said Rangoon "had no reason not to be happy" with
Diplomats have said Laos and Cambodia could be admitted to
Asean as early as next year, but Mr Alatas said no time had
The summit avoided discussion of the upcoming World Trade
Organisation meeting but Mr Alatas said that was because the
region had already adopted a firm position on the stand it will
adopt. "Asean's common position on WTO was well known,"
he said. "So there was no need to elaborate on that."
Ministers on the fringes of the summit said Asean was
determined not to allow issues like trade and human rights be
linked with trade and investment at the inaugural ministerial
meeting in Singapore next month. (Reuter)