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NEWS - Myanmar Says EU Reneged on A

Subject: NEWS - Myanmar Says EU Reneged on ASEAN Talks Deal

Myanmar Says EU Reneged on ASEAN Talks Deal


           SINGAPORE, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Myanmar Foreign Minister
           Win Aung said on Friday the European Union had reneged
           on a deal that would allow Myanmar to attend a meeting
           between Europe and the Association of South East Asian
           Nations (ASEAN). 

           Win Aung said he had agreed to an EU proposal to talk
           about human rights and other thorny issues on the sidelines
           of the Berlin meeting next month in return for the Europeans
           allowing his participation. 

           He was speaking a day after ASEAN-member Indonesia
           threatened to call off the ministerial meeting with the
           grouping's oldest dialogue partner because the EU had said
           Myanmar would not be allowed to participate. 

           "There was one suggestion -- they asked me whether I was
           willing to talk with the...EU on the sidelines of the
meeting. I
           said why not, I agree to that, I would like to talk to you,"
           Aung told Reuters in an interview. 

           "But nearer the day we have found many many conditions
           coming out of the EU. First they said if you are willing to
           meet, there will not be a problem, then they change their

           The EU has barred Myanmar senior officials from attending
           the meeting because of the military-ruled state's human
           rights record. ASEAN says all its foreign ministers must be
           allowed to attend the talks, which could bring much-needed
           financial aid. 

           The issue, a sticking point since Myanmar was admitted to
           ASEAN 18 months ago, has already led to cancellation of a
           junior level EU-ASEAN meeting in Bangkok last month. 

           An EU diplomat in Bangkok said he thought it would take a
           diplomatic miracle to save the Berlin meeting. 

           He said he believed a majority of EU member states would
           be willing to accept Myanmar's participation at a
           vice-ministerial level provided Yangon agreed to discuss
           human rights. 

           "Frankly, though, I am not optimistic about the
           issue," he said. "ASEAN has to choose between its
           relationship with Burma and its dialogue with the EU." 

           Win Aung said ASEAN would not leave him out. "The rest
           will not go without us, without me. Do you think they will go
           there without me participating in that meeting? I don't think

           ASEAN groups Brunei, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar,
           the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. 

           "If the EU side is agreeable for the participation of every
           country from ASEAN, then there will not be any problem,"
           Win Aung said. "I don't want to say the ball is in their
           but we need to reach some understanding." 

           He said Myanmar would not succumb to external pressure
           for change and was working on its own problems at its own

           "We have our own agenda to build our own nation. If there is
           pressure this will just hamper us. If there is no pressure,
           will move forward very quickly." 

           He blamed critics inside and outside the country for painting
           a "totally incorrect" picture of Myanmar. 

           "We are also human beings and we respect human beings
           and human rights," Win Aung said. 

           Human rights activists estimate that 1,000 to 2,000 political
           prisoners are currently in custody in Myanmar.
           Pro-democracy groups based in Thailand say some 270
           political activists were sentenced last month to prison terms
           of seven to 52 years. 

           Earlier this month Yangon freed "on humanitarian grounds" a
           dissident writer it jailed in 1993 for distributing
           anti-government leaflets. 

           An EU diplomat in Bangkok said this single release could not
           be considered the significant progress the EU was looking
           for on the country's human rights record. 

           But Win Aung said the EU would have to sit at the
           negotiating table with Myanmar at some point. 

           "Only by talking and by having contact, by having the chance
           to explain about each other, can we get a better
           understanding. Based on that, only then can we move
           forward," Win Aung said.