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NEWS -Thailand Cancels Meeting Coin

Subject: NEWS -Thailand Cancels Meeting Coinciding with EU-ASEAN Gathering

Thailand Cancels Meeting Coinciding with EU-ASEAN Gathering


               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
               between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and
               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
               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
               be happy, because we support free speech. But there is no

               The union organization said that the Thai Foreign
               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

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

               The Singapore-based union organization said in a
               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
               unions have had of the candidacy of a Thai deputy prime
               minister, Supachai Pantichpakdi, to head the World Trade

               Officials at the union organization said on condition of
               anonymity that they would eventually hold the conference
               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
               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
               will participate fully.