Sun, May 08, 2005 - Page 5 News List

EU official chides on Myanmar

CRITICISM An anonymous European official decried the lack of pressure on the country's junta, which is undermining EU and US attempts to isolate the regime

AFP , KYOTO, JAPAN

European efforts to secure the freedom of Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi are being undermined by a lack of political pressure from Asian nations, a European official said yesterday.

The EU used a meeting of Asian and European foreign ministers in Kyoto, Japan to demand the military junta release Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest and free 19 political prisoners.

But a senior European official regretted that Asian nations were not applying similar pressure.

"What happened here is not good because no Asian country took a position on Myanmar," the official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

Both the EU and the US, which is not part of the 38-nation Asia-Europe Meeting here, have applied sanctions on Myanmar that block investment. They have warned that relations will be in jeopardy if the Yangon junta assumes the presidency of ASEAN next year as scheduled.

Japan's foreign ministry spokesman Hatsuhisa Takashima defended Tokyo's policy of not halting aid to Myanmar, saying that bigger projects such as infrastructure assistance have been held up by the lack of democracy.

Myanmar's Foreign Minister Nyan Win, who met with the EU on Friday in the two sides' first ministerial talks, rebuffed the EU criticism but said having dialogue was "constructive," according to a Japanese official.

"Democratization should be neither imported nor exported. People from the outside cannot force this," Nyan Win was quoted as telling the session yesterday morning.

"You cannot get clean water right after you drill a well. It will take some time to get pure water," he said.

But Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn of Luxembourg, which currently holds the EU presidency, said he told Nyan Win that Myanmar needed immediately to free the 19 prisoners and Suu Kyi.

"We have to try to rebuild dialogue, but the first condition is here," Asselborn told reporters, referring to a release.

In a speech before the meeting, Asselborn also called on Myanmar to establish "permanent and sincere cooperation" with the UN, including the UN's special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar.

He told Nyan Win that next time they met, he hoped they could speak about cooperation and aid instead of sanctions.

Some 100 protesters rallied outside the meeting venue here holding up pictures of Suu Kyi, demanding the release of her and other political prisoners and denouncing the ASEAN presidency going to Myanmar.

"We don't want the ASEAN presidency to go to Burma [Myanmar] because they are a military junta involved in human rights abuses, forced labor and drug trafficking," said Lin Aung, a spokesman for the Japan branch of the Nobel laureate's National League for Democracy.

"We want to request that Japan ... does more. What they're doing now is not enough. Japan still hasn't stopped giving ODA [aid] money to Burma and 100 percent of it goes to the military junta," he said.

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