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The Nation-EU firm on Burmese stand

Subject: The Nation-EU firm on Burmese stand at Asean meet 

The Nation May 27, 1999.
EU firm on Burmese stand at Asean meet

BURMA's attempt to join an Asean-EU cooperation pact is facing further delay
as the European Union still sees no positive development in the country's
human-rights record.

''The EU sees no positive political and human-rights development and
improvement in Burma. We still maintain our position that Burma has no
development,'' Emiliano Fossati, director of the EU's South and Southeast
Asian Affairs Department, said yesterday.

Fossati, as the chief of EU delegates, was speaking at a press conference at
the end of the Asean-EU Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) meeting held here.

The Burma issue has overshadowed the three-day forum, although it was not on
the official agenda of the forum.

The chief of Asean delegates, Anucha Osathanond at the same press conference
confirmed that Burma and Laos each have already sent a letter of intent,
stating their readiness to become the signatories of the Asean-EU pact,
which will give them access to EU technical and financial assistance.

Fossati said he was not aware of the letters. But the admission of new
signatories to the pact requires consensus from both groupings, he added.

Fossati said Burma might not be able to attend the next meeting of the
Asean-European technical meeting to be held in a European city because the
EU visa ban slapped on senior Burmese government officials continues.

He said Burma's participation in the just-concluded JCC meeting was based on
a case-by-case decision. Both groupings will discuss later the participation
of Burma in the next JCC meeting which is held every 18 months.

Asean and the EU have been at a deadlock for about two years on the presence
of Burma before reaching a compromise which allowed it to attend this
meeting as a passive member along with Laos and Cambodia which do not face
the same problem as Burma.

The three Asean members were not allowed to speak during the meeting.

Anucha said that the JCC meeting agreed to set up two additional sub
committees on narcotics and the environment.

They also agreed that the first meetings of these sub committees would be
held as soon as possible with that on narcotics to be held in an Asean

country and the other in a European country.

Asked whether Burma could participate in the sub committee on narcotics,
Fossati said that the EU would be dealing only with the signatories to the
JCC agreement.

''Non-signatory countries should not benefit from the Asean-EU
cooperation,'' he told reporters.

The controversy over the presence of Burma has also delayed the Asean-EU
ministerial-level meeting scheduled to be held in Germany early this year.
Asean insists that Rangoon, as a new member of the grouping, has to attend
the meeting while Burmese cannot travel to Germany because of the visa ban.

Asked whether the deadlock on Burma has kept Laos and Cambodia out of the
JCC cooperation, Fossati said that both countries have had bilateral
discussions with the EC through which they could enhance their cooperation
with the EU.

The meeting yesterday countersigned the work programme on the ''new
dynamic'' in EU-Asean relations, in which both groupings agreed to enhance
cooperation on intellectual property, customs, trade facilitation,
investment, trade in services, environment and energy.

According to the joint press statement, both sides agree that they should
hold regular discussions by experts on market-access issues to create a
climate of full confidence in trade relations.

They underlined the importance of the Asean-EU trade and its contributions
to Asia's economic recovery, and that they would support balanced growth
through the implementation of the work programme.

In a separate interview, a senior Laotian official said Vientiane has sent a
written request to Singapore, the chairman of the Asean Standing Committee,
stating it wants to join the 1980 Asean-EU cooperation pact.

Sayakan Sisouvong, the deputy director of Asean Affairs, said Foreign
Minister Somsavath Lengsavad sent a letter dated May 21 to his Singaporean
counterpart S Jayakumar, informing him of Vientiane's readiness to sign the

''It is up to Asean and the EU to consider Laos' eligibility to join the
pact,'' said Sayakan who led a five-member Lao delegation to the JCC meeting
for the first time.

The EU cited Burma's poor human-rights records and its repressive regime to
deny Asean's request for Burma to join the pact. This in turn complicated
Laos's attempt to sign the pact because both countries have close ties and
share an adherence to non-interference in domestic affairs.

But Sayakan said having been acquainted with the process of Asean-European
cooperation, Laos believed joining the pact would benefit its cash-strapped

He said signing the Asean-EU cooperation pact will give the country a new
window of opportunity to get funds for much-needed development and enlarge
its export access to the EU.

Vientiane assumed that it could replace the quota gap caused by the EU's
planned axing of tax and access privileges for Thailand by next year.

Sayakan said Laos is also keen to improve its forestry and environment
management, and sharpen its agricultural-processing skills on the back of
the EU link-up.

Having suffered badly from being heavily dependent on neighbouring
countries, Vientiane is struggling to get an injection of foreign aid.

The main objective is to boost agro-businesses and cut imports.



The Nation