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Asean ready to include Burma (The A
Subject: Asean ready to include Burma (The Asian Age, 29/1/97)
Asean ready to include Burma
The Asian Age (New Delhi), 29/1/97.
By Michael Richardson
International Herald Tribune
Singapore, Jan. 28: The Association of South East Asian Nations has
decided to include Burma as a new member this year, even though the
presence of the Burmese military regime could cause a rift in relations
with the West and disrupt plans to hold a summit meeting between European
and Asian leaders, officials and analysts say.
With foreign ministers of Asean and the European Union scheduled to meet
in Singapore next month, all Asean countries have now made it clear that
they will not be deterred from accepting Burma as a member by western
objections to its record of human rights abuses and political repression.
Thailand and the Philippines -- which has previously voiced doubts about
Burma joining Asean unless the internal situation improved -- have
dropped those reservations to advance regional unity. As a result, Asean
will "very likely" grant membership to Burma, Cambodia and Laos in 1997,
Mahathir bin Mohamad, the Malaysian Prime Minister, said recently.
Malaysia will be chairman of the Asean this year. With Indonesia, it is
leading the push to unite Southeast Asia by bringing Burma, Cambodia and
Laos into the group at its annual meeting in Kuala Lampur in July.
"With the ten Southeast Asian countries together, we will form a
community with a combined population of 500 million, bigger in fact then
Europe or North America," Mr Mahathir said. "We may not be as rich, but
the potential will be tremendous. We will be a significant player in Asia
and in the world."
Just after Asean and EU foreign ministers meet in Singapore on February
13 and 14, they will be joined by their counterparts from China. Japan
and South Korea to discuss the agenda for a summit of European and Asian
heads of government in London in 1998.
The issue of Burma's imminent membership in Asean threatens to disrupt
the London meeting because leaders of the Burmese military government are
banned from visiting Europe under visa restrictions imposed as part of a
package of sanctions imposed by the EU in 1996 to protest a crackdown on
the democratic Opposition in Burma. The US imposed similar penalties.
Membership in the Asean does not confer an automatic right to join the
Europe-Asia summit conference. But Asean officials said they expected all
members. including Burma, would want to participate and that this would
have Asean's support.
With Rangoon continuing to harass the Opposition National League for
Democracy and refusing to negotiate with its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi
despite repeated calls for dialogue by the United Nations and the West,
it seems unlikely that the EU will ease its sanctions to allow the
Burmese government to be represented at the London meeting.
"We know that it would be a very negative gesture by the EU to refuse
Burma membership in the Asia-Europe meeting," a Europe diplomat said on
Fri the summit were tom, would be a visa problt there is still one in 19
quently will he heavil on what happens in Burma.