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Reuters-Compromise could save ASEAN (r)

Subject: Reuters-Compromise could save ASEAN-EU meeting -Thailand

Compromise could save ASEAN-EU meeting -Thailand
06:14 a.m. Feb 25, 1999 Eastern
By Nick Edwards

SINGAPORE, Feb 25 (Reuters) - A meeting of European Union and Southeast
Asian foreign ministers, jeopardised by a row over Myanmar taking part,
could go ahead if a deal on a separate junior level meeting is struck, a
Thai official said on Thursday.

Officials of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the
European Union have been postponing a meeting of their joint cooperation
committee (JCC) for more than a year, also due to differences over Myanmar's

``We hope that if the JCC can be convened it will pave the way for the
ASEAN-EU foreign ministers' meeting,'' Saroj Chavanaviraj, permanent
secretary at Thailand's foreign ministry, told reporters in Singapore.

EU sanctions against Myanmar, which joined ASEAN in 1997, ban high level
meetings with its officials because of the EU's disapproval of Myanmar's
human rights record.

Saroj said he hoped the JCC meeting, originally set for November 1997 in
Bangkok, could take place before the end of March.

The conference has been derailed by seating arrangements. The EU wants
Myanmar to be identified differently from other ASEAN members while ASEAN
wants equal treatment for all its members.

Saroj said ASEAN officials had drawn up a compromise they hoped the European
side would agree to and would allow the JCC conference to go ahead.

This could then set a diplomatic course that could salvage the foreign
ministers' meeting, set to take place in Berlin at the end of March.

The EU has refused to invite Myanmar to the meeting and ASEAN leaders insist
that Myanmar be included. The two sides are deadlocked and the conference
looks set to be called off.

``We have come up with an agreed position, a unanimous position, that for
the ASEAN-EU foreign ministers' meeting, all the foreign ministers of ASEAN
must be present,'' Saroj told reporters on the sidelines of an ASEAN meeting
with India held in Singapore.

``We don't want to see it off, but we would like Europe to see the logic of
it all. If they still attach importance to the ASEAN-EU relationship and

cooperation, we hope that they will be able to go ahead with the meeting,''
Saroj said.

The 15 EU member states would have to give their unanimous support if the
bloc were to make an exception for Myanmar Foreign Minister Win Aung.
Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands and several Scandinavian members are
opposed to his participation.

Saroj said shifting the location of the Berlin meeting was not a long-term
answer to the problem.

``That will be only a one shot affair. What's going to happen next year and
the year after that?'' he said.

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