[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index ][Thread Index ]

ANALYSIS-Burden of Myanmar pariah w

Subject: ANALYSIS-Burden of Myanmar pariah weighs on ASEAN

ANALYSIS-Burden of Myanmar pariah weighs on ASEAN
06:00 a.m. Feb 15, 1999 Eastern
By David Brunnstrom

BANGKOK, Feb 15 (Reuters) - The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has
come to rue admitting military-ruled Myanmar as a member 18 months ago.

The 30-year-old regional bloc now finds the behaviour of one of its youngest
members jeopardising its relationship with, and much needed financial
assistance from, its oldest dialogue partner, the European Union.

Signs are that a key ministerial meeting between the two blocs scheduled for
late next month will have to be postponed since Europe considers Myanmar's
human rights record so bad it will not accept senior Yangon officials within
its borders.

Talks between the two blocs to resolve the stalemate have not budged either
from their respective collective positions.

The nine-member ASEAN insists all of its foreign ministers must be allowed
to attend the Berlin meeting or none at all.

But the signs of frustration and strain are showing.

``There are some people who now ask whether it was a good idea to accept
Myanmar,'' said an ASEAN diplomat in Bangkok. ``But now it's a fait
accompli, it's done, and we have to live with it. But we have our limits too
and sometimes we feel very fed up with this situation.''

The economic crisis that has swept Asia since the last foreign ministers
meeting two years ago means ASEAN needs all the help it can get.

But Europe, economically resurgent and under pressure from strong human
rights lobbies, is in no mood to let Myanmar off the hook.

It says easing its visa ban on senior Myanmar officials requires Yangon to
show ``substantial progress'' on human rights.

The issue has already put paid to a more junior-level meeting, of the
EU-ASEAN Joint Cooperation Committee, that was supposed to take place in
Bangkok last month.

EU and ASEAN diplomats consider the ministerial meetings, which are supposed
to be held every two years, key to the development of bloc-to-bloc political

But there is also a financial equation. The lack of dialogue means
disbursement of hundreds of millions of dollars of EU development funding
will be indefinitely delayed.

Thailand and Germany have been tasked with negotiating a way around the
dispute, but neither is optimistic.

``Germany has said it will be difficult to convince its EU colleagues unless
there is progress on human rights,'' said a Thai Foreign Ministry official.
``We are not very optimistic.''

While Germany, as the current holder of the revolving EU presidency, would
like to find a compromise, it has to represent all EU members, not least
Britain and the Nordic countries, which have taken a particularly tough line
on Myanmar.

``We wouldn't rule out a compromise, But we have made very clear our
position,'' said a German diplomat in Bangkok.

``The guilding line in the relationship cannot only be economic. It has to
be human rights as well,'' he said.

``The ball is now definitely on the Burmese (Myanmar) side and if ASEAN
can't convince them, they have to bear the consequences. And the
consequences are the meeting not taking place.''

Myanmar has shown little indication that it plans to alter radically its
attitude to dissent in the weeks ahead.

Last week, it said it had freed ``on humanitarian grounds'' a dissident
writer it jailed for 20 years in 1993 for distributing anti-government

But diplomats in Yangon say they consider as credible reports from
pro-democracy groups that some 270 activists were sentenced last month to
jail terms ranging from seven to 52 years.

Human rights activists say the number of political prisoners held in Myanmar
could number up to 2,000.

On Monday, Myanmar Foreign Minister Win Aung left on a four-nation ASEAN
tour that will take in Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand. An ASEAN
diplomat said the EU dispute would top the agenda during his tour.

The Thai Foreign Ministry official said ASEAN was obliged to ensure all its
members were treated equally.

``We understand the EU position because we subscribe to that way of thinking
too, but we have to say we are not very happy when it links its relationship
with ASEAN to developments in a single country,'' he said.

Nevertheless, the ASEAN diplomat suggested a compromise might come in the
time-honoured form of a ``diplomatic illness.''

``But it's up to Myanmar to decide whether it will assign somebody else for
the meeting. We will not ask U Win Aung to stay away and we have no
intention of raising it. But if he decides that himself, then that's