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EU: Burma Can Join ASEM If Pro-Democracy Leader Is Released - 2004-04-17


European Union ministers say Burma can join a Euro-Asian economic and political partnership if it frees opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest.

EU foreign ministers meeting in Ireland say Rangoon must also allow opposition party members to participate in next month's constitutional convention, if Burma wants to become a member of of the Asia-Europe Meeting, or ASEM.

The group brings together foreign ministers and senior officials from 25 Asian and European countries. But Burma has been excluded amid concern over the country's human rights situation and Rangoon's crackdown on political dissent.

European ministers agreed on the demands for Burma Saturday after Burma's military government allowed the opposition National League for Democracy, or NLD, to re-open its headquarters in Rangoon.

The party was forced to close its offices throughout the country following a government crackdown last year after a confrontation between a pro-government mob and supporters of party leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The pro-democracy leader and other opposition figures were detained after the incident. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate remains under house arrest, but some other opposition leaders have since been released.

The Burmese government has invited a number of those leaders to participate in an upcoming convention on the country's constitution. But NLD leaders say they will not participate unless all the party's leaders are released from custody.

Information for this report is provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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