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Senior ASEAN, EU Officials Discuss Burma

  • Nancy-Amelia Collins

European and Southeast Asian officials are pressing Burma's military government to ease political restrictions and push forward on reforms. Burma's human rights record has been a sore point in relations between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the European Union.

Top European Union diplomats say they had frank discussions on Burma Thursday with officials from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Jean Asselborn is the foreign minister of Luxembourg, which holds the European Union presidency. He says the Europeans pressed their concerns about Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy activist that Burma has held under house arrest for most of the past 15 years.

"We reiterated the need for the early lifting of all restrictions and we ask from the European side for the release of all - all - political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi," he said.

Ms. Suu Kyi and her political party, the National League for Democracy, won national elections in 1990, but were never allowed to take power.

Burma, a member of ASEAN, is set to take over the organization's presidency next year. However, many European officials have long advocated democratic reforms in Burma, also known as Myanmar, and the issue has caused friction between the European Union and ASEAN.

"We called on Myanmar to grant access to the special representative of the United Nations and to continue effective cooperation with all U.N. agencies," she said. "We discussed ways to promote positive development in Myanmar and agreed to continue dialogue on this issue."

At their meeting Thursday in Jakarta, the EU and ASEAN delegations also discussed tsunami aid. Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European external relations commissioner, says there will be close monitoring of money sent to help rebuild communities destroyed by the Indian Ocean tsunami in December.

"I can promise you that the European Commission will be efficient in delivering aid, it will be rigorous in ensuring the assistance fits the real needs in each country and thus also here, and we will also be implacable in the face of any misuse and fraud," she said.

ASEAN is the European Union's second largest market and third largest trading partner in Asia, while the European Union is the second largest investor in the 10 nations of ASEAN.

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