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Reuters-Thais defend Myanmar democr

Subject: Reuters-Thais defend Myanmar democracy meeting ban 

Thais defend Myanmar democracy meeting ban
11:28 p.m. May 22, 1999 Eastern
BANGKOK, May 23 (Reuters) - Thailand has defended its decision to ban a
trades union conference on forced labour and democracy in Myanmar saying it
would have been unbalanced because the military government was not invited.

``We don't have any problem with the meeting, but it should be more properly
balanced,'' Sunday's Bangkok Post quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Don
Pramudwinai as saying.

He said Yangon officials had not been invited and allowing the attendance of
Sein Win, the head of a government in exile, would have jeopardised ties
with Myanmar, Thailand's neighbour.

The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions has slammed the Thai
decision to block the conference scheduled to start on Monday, saying it
lacked courage and principle.

It said Bangkok was allowing itself to be used by a country with an
appalling human rights record to bolster its image and that it cast doubt on
the credibility of Thailand's current efforts to win the leadership of the
World Trade Organisation.

Opponents of the candidacy of Deputy Prime Minister Supachai Panitchpakdi
accuse Thailand of doing to little to defend labour rights.

Human right groups accuse Myanmar of widespread use of forced labour --
charges it rejects -- and the government severely restricts the activities
of its pro-democracy opposition through detentions and intimidation.

The democracy conference would have coincided with a meeting in Bangkok of
the Joint Cooperation Committee of the Association of South East Asian
Nations and the European Union, which has been stalled for the past year
over Myanmar's participation.

The blocs finally agreed to hold the twice-postponed talks under an
arrangement whereby the new members of ASEAN -- Laos, Myanmar and
Cambodia -- can attend but not speak, on the grounds that they have not
signed a 1980 joint cooperation agreement.

The dispute over Myanmar forced the cancellation earlier this year of a
meeting of EU and ASEAN foreign ministers, since EU sanctions bar entry by
senior Yangon officials.