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AFP-ASEAN and EU to resume ties aft

Subject: AFP-ASEAN and EU to resume ties after Myanmar row

ASEAN and EU to resume ties after Myanmar row
BANGKOK, May 24 (AFP) - The European Union vowed Monday to maintain its
tough line on Myanmar as its officials prepared for their first talks in two
years with Southeast Asian leaders following a row over Yangon's human
rights record.
EU and ASEAN officials were due to sit down together later Monday to try to
reinvigorate relations soured when Myanmar joined the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations in 1997 in the face of stiff Western opposition.

The meeting of the Joint Cooperation Committee has been delayed by more than
a year because European officials have refused to meet Yangon's generals on
equal terms.

Myanmar is accused of a catalogue of serious human rights abuses and is
vilified for refusing to cede power to Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition, which
won a landslide victory in elections in 1990.

EU director for South and Southeast Asia Emiliano Fossati told reporters
that Myanmar's limited role at the meeting did not signal an dilution in
Europe's stance.

"It is impossible that we could change our position, the only change there
could be is the way the authorities in Burma (Myanmar) administer the
country," he said.

"Our impression has been that the situation with human rights and forced
labour has not improved at all. It is clear that the EU has a common
position on Burma."

EU officials agreed in March that Myanmar should not any longer be able to
hold relations with ASEAN hostage but also agreed to retain a strict package
of sanctions against the junta.

Myanmar will be a mute presence at the official talks as it is not a
signatory to the original 1980 EU-ASEAN cooperation agreement.

"They will not be able to speak ... (but) there are corridors in the hotel,"
said Michel Caillouet, head of the European Commission's delegation in
Thailand, alluding to the posibility that Myanmar could bring up issues on
the sidelines.

Caillouet told reporters last week that little had changed in the European
attitude to Myanmar since the issue forced the cancellation of an EU-ASEAN
foreign ministers' meeting in Berlin earlier this year.

"On the political level we are still at a standstill," he said.

"We (the EU) are very firm on the principles of democracy and human rights."

The four days of closed-door talks will focus on areas ranging from trade
and forestry to science and technology.

EU members have argued that it could not accept Myanmar's attendance at
previous talks, given its human rights record and the fact that it had not
signed the 1980 protocol.

ASEAN viewed that as a challenge to its legitimacy and unity, stressing that
inter-bloc talks should include all of its members.

Some analysts believe Myanmar has hurt ASEAN's credibility and proved an
obstacle to crucial talks on investment and aid as the region tries to
overcome its financial crisis.

Supporters of Myanmar's membership say ASEAN's relevance depends on the
membership of all the region's countries.

Aung San Suu Kyi said in a recent interview with AFP that the country's
admission to ASEAN in July 1997 had given the Yangon junta confidence to
launch a major crackdown on the democracy movement.

"After Burma (Myanmar) became a member of ASEAN the authorities have become
much more oppressive and I don't think ASEAN can claim that Burma has been a
credit to them," she said.

"It gave them confidence because once they got what they wanted, which was
full membership of ASEAN, there was no need for them to be good boys any

"ASEAN was not going to kick them out for human rights violations."

The EU in April extended sanctions against Myanmar in protest against
ongoing human rights abuses and the junta's rejection of the results of the
1990 elections.

The sanctions, which include a halt to non-humanitarian aid and a visa ban
against senior Yangon officials, were first applied in 1996 and effectively
block ASEAN from attending talks in Europe.

Apart from Myanmar, ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos,
Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.