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Thailand Cancels Union Conference (

Subject: Thailand Cancels Union Conference (Associated Press)

Friday May 21 5:41 AM ET 

Thailand Cancels Union Conference
By PATRICK McDOWELL Associated Press Writer 

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) - Thai officials have abruptly canceled an
international trade union conference expected to discuss forced labor and
democracy in neighboring Myanmar, organizers said today.

The conference, months in the planning, was to run next week at the same
time as a controversial summit in Bangkok between the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations and the European Union.

The EU-ASEAN meeting has been delayed for nearly a year due to objections by
European countries over the participation of Myanmar, a member of ASEAN
since 1997 and the target of EU sanctions over the poor human-rights record
of its military government.

The Singapore-based International Confederation of Free Trade Unions-Asia
and Pacific Regional Organizations disclosed today that the Thai government
withdrew permission this week for labor the conference, which was to bring
together 130 people from 20 countries.

Michel Caillouet, the European Commission's ambassador in Thailand, told
reporters that the EU-ASEAN meeting would go on despite the labor
conference's cancellation.

``There is no link between the two programs. The timing appears to be a
coincidence,'' Caillouet said. ``We would not be happy, because we support
free speech. But there is no link.''

The union organization said that the Thai Foreign Ministry had approved the
gathering, which was to discuss trade union action in Myanmar, also known as
Burma. Members of the Myanmar pro-democracy movement were invited to attend.

In a letter received Thursday, however, the Thai Ministry of Labor and
Social Welfare, said that holding the conference ``would result in negative
effects on the good relations between Thailand and its neighbor.''

The Singapore-based union organization said in a statement that Bangkok's
decision was ``a sad reflection on the so-called sovereignty of Thailand.''

Signed by secretary general Takashi Izumi, the statement said that the
incident would add to the negative view trade unions have had of the
candidacy of a Thai deputy prime minister, Supachai Pantichpakdi, to head
the World Trade Organization.

Officials at the union organization said on condition of anonymity that they
would eventually hold the conference in another country. No date has been set.

The EU-ASEAN meeting is extremely sensitive and has highlighted rifts
between the two regional blocs since Myanmar was admitted as a member two
years ago.

EU officials have refused to sit at the same table with ASEAN if Myanmar
takes a seat as an equal member, and ASEAN has insisted that Myanmar cannot
be relegated to observer status.

Caillouet said in a briefing that the meeting was finally going ahead
because ASEAN has agreed to come not as a bloc but as separate countries.
Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia will be present but will not be allowed to speak.

The other ASEAN members - Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines,
Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam - have accords with the EU that take into
account human-rights and will participate fully.