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EU and Asean hold long overdue mee

Subject: EU and Asean hold long overdue  meeting  (The Straits Times)

MAY 24 1999 The Straits Times
                     EU and Asean hold long overdue  meeting 

                     Myanmar junta delegates will take a back seat at
                     the meeting and not be allowed to talk though
                     avenues for communication will be available

                     BANGKOK -- Officials from Asean and the European
                     Union (EU) will meet here today for the first time since
                     the South-east Asian bloc's contentious admission of
                     military-run Myanmar two years ago. 

                     The Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) meeting has
                     been delayed for almost a year amid wrangling over the
                     status of Myanmar, with the EU refusing to meet the
                     generals from Yangon on equal terms. 

                     But EU officials in March agreed they could not let the
                     human-rights situation in Myanmar hold relations
                     "hostage" any longer and are hoping this week's meeting
                     will launch a "new dynamic" in inter-bloc ties. 

                     Myanmar's junta is accused of gross human-rights abuses
                     and of ignoring the result of the landslide victory in
                     1990 election by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's
                     opposition party. 

                     Representatives from the junta would take a back seat at
                     the JCC talks bringing together the EU and Asean, said
                     Mr Michel Caillouet, head of the European Commission's
                     delegation in Thailand. 

                     He added that Myanmar was not a signatory to the
                     original 1980 EU-Asean "cooperation agreement" and
                     Asean had therefore agreed to go ahead with the JCC
                     meeting despite the EU's insistence on Myanmar's limited

                     "They will not be able to speak... but there are
                     in the hotel," the EU delegation head said, referring
to the
                     possibility that Myanmar delegates might want to raise
                     issues on the meeting's sidelines. 

                     He noted there was little sign of progress on political
                     dialogue between the two blocs since 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 told
                     reporters at a press briefing here on Friday. 

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

                     Meanwhile, a senior Asian diplomat in Yangon said
                     Myanmar's economy was at a standstill and the
                     investment boom expected after its entry into Asean had
                     failed to materialise. 

                     "The timing was all wrong. When they got into Asean, the
                     regional crisis hit," he said. 

                     "A lot of the investment made in hotels and property on
                     the expectation that the economy would boom ... went

                     The EU last month extended sanctions against Myanmar
                     in protest against ongoing human-rights abuses as well as
                     the 1990 election results. 

                     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. 

                     Mr Caillouet said the JCC meeting would cover issues
                     including trade, the environment and drug control. 

                     He said the EU and Asean "have a lot to do together ...
                     and we are happy to be able to continue at the technical
                     level". AFP