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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.