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Burma to Attend ASEAN-EU Meeting - 2003-01-24


Westerns officials say Burma will be allowed to join other members of the Association of South East Asian Nations in high-level meetings with the European Union in Brussels next week. This is the first time Burma will participate in the ASEAN-EU forum, having been previously banned because of its human rights record.

Burma's attendance at the 14th meeting of ASEAN and European foreign ministers is seen as a breakthrough for ASEAN.

The European Union maintains tough sanctions on Burma, including a visa ban on high-level visits, an arms embargo and the freezing of assets of senior Burmese officials.

But diplomats say ASEAN members pressed the European Union to allow Burma to attend this year, saying that Rangoon's absence was "not acceptable."

Monday's meeting in Brussels will now be the first time the military government has been allowed to participate in these talks since Burma became on ASEAN member in 1997.

The European Union initially protested the move by suspending dialogue temporarily.

It appears that EU officials had been swayed by recent improvements in Burma's human rights performance, which include the release of hundreds of political prisoners and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest.

Diplomats say the European Union is allowing Burma to attend to "further the cause of democracy," but this visit is an exception and sanctions will remain in place.

European officials contend there are few other signs of real political reform in Burma, with the military government, in power for the past 40 years, facing fresh international criticism for its ongoing harassment of Aung San Suu Kyi and the democratic opposition.