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Burma Tops ASEM Agenda - 2003-07-23


The foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and representatives of the European Union will be discussing on the Burma issue at their annual meeting in Bali, Indonesia. The two-day meeting begins Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the players voiced their views on Burma. The EU, in its statement said that the Burma situation could stall relations between the two groupings because it involves regional implications and that Burma needs to be strongly condemned for its treatment of Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD party members.

The Asean view, however, advocates a softer approach. Thai foreign minister Surakiart Sathirathai told reporters that after consulting with his Indonesian counterpart Hassan Wirajuda, Asean ministers plan to hold talks on Burma.

He added, "We are trying to find an exit for the Myanmar government and also reduce pressure from the international community, which has imposed sanctions that will have negative repercussions against Myanmar's poor."

Another important player U.N. special envoy Razali Ismail has also been invited by Asean ministers to attend the Burma talks which they plan to hold in the sidelines of the main Asem meeting.

Razali commented on Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad's recent remarks that Burma could face expulsion from Asean if it fails to release Aung San Suu Kyi as demanded by the international community.

The U.N. envoy said Mr. Mahathir's comments were -- in his words -- "a progressive statement, because it indicates the need to have (a minimum) standard of behavior within ASEAN."

However, recently U.S.-based Burmese activists staged a demonstration in front of U.N. headquarters in New York calling on the U.N. Security Council to take up the Burma issue since Razali has failed in his mission, despite visits to Burma for ten times.

In the meantime, the visiting French president Jacques Chirac joined Malaysian prime minister in calling for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.

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