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EU Compromises on Burma Attendance at Asia-Europe Summit - 2004-09-04

The European Union says Burma can attend an Asia-Europe summit next month, but only if it sends a low-level delegation. But some rights activists are disappointed by the decision.

E.U. foreign ministers say Burma's prime minister, General Khin Nyunt, is not welcome at the October summit in Hanoi, Vietnam. Instead, they want Burma to send a lower-level delegate to the gathering of leaders from the European Union and the Asian nations.

They also say Burma must free opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest by October 8, the day the summit opens, and allow her political party to participate in drafting a new national constitution.

Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot says new restrictions, including increased sanctions, will be imposed unless Burma complies with the demands.

Debbie Stothard, with the human rights group, the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, says the country's military rulers may see the E.U. compromise as a victory.

"The best scenario would have seen Burma excluded from the meeting, and indeed this is the time when pressure is most important, when the regime still refuses to release Aung San Suu Kyi or allow political freedoms in the country," she said.

E.U. nations wanted to block Burma from the Asia-Europe Meeting, known as ASEM, because of its poor human rights record. But the Association of Southeast Asian Nations insisted Burma should attend, nearly scuttling the meeting. In addition to E.U. and ASEAN members, China, Japan and South Korea will attend the summit to discuss common concerns such as trade and international crime.

Ms. Stothard says if the European Union had stood its ground, ASEAN probably would have given up its demand that Burma attend, since ASEAN leaders see the meeting as a forum to expand trade.

"However, their willingness to compromise may send another mixed message to the regime and to the Asian partners of the regime that no matter what is said in favor of human rights and democracy, when it comes down to trade, all that rhetoric is forgotten," said Debbie Stothard.

Burma has detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi since a clash between her supporters and a pro-government mob more than a year ago.

Her National League for Democracy won 1990 elections by a landslide, but was never allowed to take power.

Many countries, including most of Europe already have imposed sanctions against Burma, trying to push it to make political reforms.