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ASEAN Foreign Ministers to Discuss Burma - 2003-06-16


The foreign ministers of 10 Southeast Asian governments will kick-off an annual summit Monday by taking the unprecedented step of discussing Burma's crackdown on its democratic opposition.

The ASEAN foreign ministers gathering in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, also plan to issue a statement about Burma's detention last month of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

This is a departure from the regional group's traditional policy of noninterference in the internal affairs of members.

Burma's foreign minister, Win Aung, who is attending the ASEAN conference, said Sunday that Aung San Suu Kyi is being held in what he called "protective custody" to keep her safe from alleged assassins.

He did not give a possible date for her release.

Burma's military government has received international condemnation for Aung San Suu Kyi's detention and the crackdown against her National League for Democracy.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is expected to press Burma to immediately free the democracy leader and restart talks with the opposition when he joins the ASEAN meeting later in the week.

The Secretary General of ASEAN, Ong Keng Yong, cautioned Western powers to handle the issue of Burma carefully. He also defended ASEAN's policy on Burma, calling it "constructive engagement."

The annual ASEAN summit will also address economic cooperation, terrorism, and other regional issues.

Information for this report is provided by AP and AFP.

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