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Asean and EU sidestep Myanmar issue

Subject: Asean and EU sidestep Myanmar issue (AFP)

MAY 28 1999 

                 Asean and EU sidestep Myanmar issue (AFP)

                 Progress is made in wide-ranging talks but alleged
                 human-rights violations make Myanmar's status at
                 future sessions uncertain

                 BANGKOK -- Asean and the European Union
                 wrapped up a landmark meeting here yesterday after
                 sidestepping differences on Myanmar which have
                 derailed relations for two years. 

                 But despite the upbeat spin officials put on the meeting
                 on Wednesday, they hinted that differences over
                 Myanmar's human-rights record were likely to cause
                 more problems in the future. 

                 "These are questions that have to be considered," EU
                 Director for South and South-East Asia Emiliano Fossati
                 said on Wednesday, in response to questions on
                 Myanmar's role at future meetings. 

                 Organisers said a few rounds of golf were the last thing
                 on the agenda yesterday after three days of meetings this
                 week which launched a "new dynamic" in Asean-EU

                 Officials from both sides said the Joint Cooperation
                 Committee (JCC) meeting had covered subjects from
                 forestry to narcotics and set up two new
                 sub-committees on the environment and drugs. 

                 The EU was a strong opponent to Myanmar joining
                 Asean in July 1997, citing gross human-rights abuses
                 and its refusal to recognise the result of a 1990 election. 

                 EU officials have refused to sit down at the same table
                 as Myanmar officials, causing the cancellation of two
                 JCC meetings. 

                 A foreign ministers' meeting that was to have been held
                 in Berlin earlier this year was also cancelled for the same

                 The compromise which permitted Myanmar to join this
                 week's talks in a "passive" role would have to be
                 reconsidered for any ministerial meetings as well as the
                 next JCC meeting in Europe, officials said. 

                 Yangon officials face a visa ban in Europe under EU
                 restrictions imposed to punish alleged human-rights
                 violations by the junta. 

                 The sanctions were first applied in 1996 and effectively
                 block Asean from attending talks in Europe, which has
                 shown no inclination to soften its stance against Yangon. 

                 "Our position will change when we believe there has
                 been sufficient change in Burmese attitudes," Mr Fossati
                 said, using the old name for Myanmar. 

                 Political talks between the blocs have been at a standstill
                 since 1997, but officials said the next ministerial meeting
                 could take place on the sidelines of a forthcoming Asean
                 meeting in Singapore in July. 

                 "The decision to convene a new political meeting is to be
                 taken at the political level," Mr Fossati said. 

                 "So this issue of Myanmar could be again examined in a
                 few months from now." 

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