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From the Bkk Post, Oct. 14, 1996

Bangkok Post Oct 14, 1996

Top officials to discuss Burma request
But will not try to set time-frame for eventual membership

Nussara Sawatsawang 

Senior Asean officials will meet in Malaysia on Friday to discuss how they
should respond to Burma's request to advance its timetable for integration
into the seven-member grouping from 2000 to next year.

Burma, which currently holds an observer status, is the high point of the
two-day talks during which officials will discuss how to prepare the
military-ruled country for eventual membership of Asean, but the meeting
wouldn't try to set a timeframe for Rangoon's acceptance as a full member, a
Foreign Ministry source said.

The meeting will evaluate Burma's readiness and seek to establish conditions
which Rangoon has to ensure are in place before it can be accepted as a
member, an Asean source said.

Permanent Secretary Saroj Chavanaviraj will represent Thailand at the meeting.

Other issues on agenda include the evaluation of progress made by Cambodia
and Laos, the Asia-Europe Summit, a plan to streamline the procedures for
the grouping's annual talks, the Mekong development projects and Asean's
quest for a nuclear weapons free zone treaty.

Asean - the Association of Southeast Asian Nations - groups Brunei,
Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Cambodia and Laos will join Asean next year.
Burma's request to advance its entry comes at a time when Rangoon is being
roundly criticised for human rights violations and crackdown on the National
League for Democracy party.

Asean foreign ministers, supported by the Philippines and Thailand, agreed
not to rush fo
r an early entry of Burma and left it to their leaders to make the final
decision during the Asean Summit on November 30 in Jakarta.

Malaysia has been the chief advocate of Rangoon's early membership.

Earlier this month Philippine President Fidel Ramos said Asean's
constructive engagement policy with Burma might be reviewed as a result of
the latest reound of crackdown on the NLD, during which some 800 supporters
were arrested.

The most surprising shift came the way of Singapore last Wednesday when The
Straits Times questioned the Asean's policy towards Burma in the wake of the
latest military crackdown on civilians.

A Bangkok-based diplomat interpreted the comment as a policy shift on the
part of the Singapore government.

The editorial said the ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council
(Slorc) has to "show results in its constitutional manoeuvres," otherwise
Asean "will feel under increasing pressure...to reassess Its policy of
constructive engagement.

"It would be foolish to pretend that ASEAN can, or should, continue to
remain non-judgmental when the national reconciliation in Myanmar (Burma),
which the grouping's benign, hands-off policy is meant to encourage, remains

The editorial urged the Slorc to respect the outcome of the 1990 general
election when the NLD won by a landslide, and bring the party back into the
constitution-drafting process.

"As much as investments from Asean countries and the West have brought a
noticeable change among the people from the poverty and listlessness of old,
the Slorc authorities have to reciprocate by moving more purposefully to
engender political pluralism," the editorial said.

"A way has to be found for the Slorc to have the NLD brought back into the
constitutional process; its huge 1990 election win demands that," it added.

Singapore has normally kept quiet on this sensitive issue because the island
state ranks top am
ong foreign investors in Burma, the diplomat said.

In New  York, Burmese Foreign Minister Ohn Gyaw defended his country's
position on human rights by calling on the international community to take a
more "holistic approach" on the question.

Human rights should depend on national and regional priorities under
historical, cultural and religious backgrounds, he said in a speech
delivered at the United Nations General Assembly.

"In Myanmar (Burma) and other developing countries poverty remains an
effective obstacle to the full enjoyment of those rights," he said.

"For this reason, we are redoubling our efforts to ensure the right to
development of our peoples so that they can be delivered from the clutches
of poverty."

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