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SCMP-Asean meeting with EU begins

South China Morning Post-Tuesday  May 25  1999

Asean meeting with EU begins

The European Union and all 10 Asean countries yesterday began a meeting
delayed for 19 months under a cloud labelled Burma.

Only by fudging the terms of Burma's attendance was the meeting able to go

Thai diplomats claimed that Burma, along with new members Cambodia and Laos,
had the right to speak out on general issues.

"Essentially they have a positive role to play in the meeting," said one
Foreign Ministry official.

But Michel Caillouet, the head of the European Union delegation in Bangkok,
said that representatives of the military regime may be seen but they will
not be heard.

"Burma is a passive participant . . . there will be no negotiation with
Burma," he said.

The two sides have been careful not to publicise the meeting's ground rules,
leaving many observers with the impression that the European Union's
executive eventually bowed to Asean sensibilities.

Many of the region's governments are privately critical of the regime in
Rangoon, but they feel that if Asean has any worth at all it must stick

"For better or worse, Burma is an Asean member," conceded one Western

The EU tried to exclude Burma by arguing that it had formal relations only
with the original seven Asean signatories to a joint co-operation agreement.

An Asean-EU foreign ministers' meeting in Berlin was cancelled earlier this
year because the Europeans wanted to maintain a visa ban on all junta

The EU suspicion that Rangoon is getting too easy an international ride
under the Asean flag has been strongly fuelled by a surprise ban last week
on a trade union conference to discuss how to bring democracy to Burma.

The Thai authorities said the International Confederation of Free Trade
Unions was putting together a blatantly political meeting that could offend