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Burma's PM in Hanoi to Garner Support for ASEAN Chairmanship

Soe Win in Hanoi
Burma's prime minister, Soe Win, has arrived in Vietnam on the last stop of a three-country tour to fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. His visit comes as controversy grows over Burma's upcoming chairmanship of ASEAN.

The Burmese national anthem rang out over a solemn ceremony in Hanoi as Vietnam's communist leadership welcomed Burma's prime minister Thursday. Lieutenant General Soe Win stood side by side with Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai as an honor guard marched and saluted.

This was a warm welcome at a time when Burma is in need of friends. In recent weeks, disagreement has been growing over whether Rangoon should be allowed to take the chairmanship of ASEAN in 2006.

The ASEAN chairmanship rotates among the 10 members each year and Burma is next in line. But recently, politicians in Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore have been calling for Rangoon to be stripped of the honor unless it makes political reforms and its human rights record improves.

Burma has been ruled by the military for most of the past five decades. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest, while talks for democratic reform have stalled. The United States and the European Union have warned they may boycott any ASEAN meeting held in Burma.

ASEAN foreign ministers due to meet in the Philippines Saturday are expected to discuss the issue.

Ahead of that meeting, Prime Minister Soe Win has been on a three-day, three-country tour of potential supporters, starting with Laos and Cambodia and ending in Vietnam. Officials in Vietnam refused to commit themselves, but Mr. Soe Win assured reporters Thursday that "it will all be OK" regarding Burma's chairmanship.

Soe Win held private talks with his Vietnamese counterpart and later paid courtesy calls on President Tran Duc Luong and Communist Party chairman Nong Duc Manh.