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Cambodia to Refuse to Join ASEM Without Burma - 2004-07-07

Cambodia says the European Union (EU) should stop trying to dictate which Asian countries can join an upcoming Asia-Europe Meeting. The Cambodian leader Wednesday threatened to boycott the October ASEM summit unless the EU relaxes demands that military-ruled Burma be kept out.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen says supporting Burma is an important display of unity for the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN. In that vein, he promised Wednesday that Cambodia would boycott the October ASEM summit in Hanoi if Burma were not allowed to attend.

The European Union has pressed hard to exclude Burma from the meeting because of its military government's poor human rights record. Chief among the objections is the current detention of Nobel Peace Prize winner and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi - under house arrest for more than a year.

ASEM groups the EU, China, Japan, South Korea and seven of the 10 ASEAN members. This is the first year that Cambodia, Laos and Burma are to attend. The biennial ASEM forum started in 1996 to promote stronger political and economic ties between Asia and Europe.

EU spokesman Steve Needham says Europe remains committed to the summit. "We still want to see the summit go ahead as planned and we're confidant that some kind of arrangement can be reached." However, he says, Burma's crackdown on pro-democracy forces remains a serious concern for the EU delegation.

"The opposition on Burma is fairly strong," says Mr. Needham. "We'd like to see some sort of movement take place there and that impacts on whether the Burmese would participate in the conference in Hanoi in October."

The EU and the United States have imposed stiff economic sanctions against Burma. And the EU has repeatedly told ASEAN that it will not attend meetings that include representatives of Burma's military leadership.

ASEAN, in an unusual move, called on Burma to release Aung San Suu Kyi last year. This call deviated from the group's long-standing policy of non-interference in its members' internal affairs.