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Europe, ASEAN Work to Overcome Differences on Burma - 2004-08-26

The Dutch and Indonesian foreign ministers say they are working together to break a stalemate over the participation of Burma in a coming meeting of European and Asian leaders.

A scheduled meeting between leaders from the Association of South East Asian National and the European Union is less than seven weeks away, but there is still no agreement on Burma's participation.

The European Union does not want Burma to attend the summit, known as ASEM, because of its human rights record and delays on political reform. ASEAN insists that all its members be allowed to attend.

The Netherlands holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, and the Dutch foreign minister, Bernard Bot, is in Jakarta to discuss relations and try to resolve the stalemate. At a news conference Thursday he expressed optimism that the problem can be resolved.

"The Dutch presidency fully intends to see to it that this meeting happens in the most constructive way, and of course we should be able also to discuss the contentious issues, notably concerning the human rights situations," Mr. Bot says.

The ASEAN nations have threatened to refuse to keep the 10 new members of the European Union from attending if Burma's military government does not attend.

Indonesia currently holds the presidency of ASEAN, and the foreign minister, Hassan Wirajuda, said Thursday he hopes a solution can be found.

"I believe it is in the sum interest of both the Asian side as well as the European side that we should be to settle the issue that we have on Asem's upcoming summit, in particular the question of participations, in satisfactory manner," Mr. Wirajuda says.

The meeting is to take place October 8-9, in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi. The ASEM summits provide a forum for European and Southeast Asian leaders to discuss such issues as trade, terrorism and international crime.