Tue 31 Aug 2004
Filed under: International,News
EU foreign ministers will seek this week to break a deadlock over Myanmar which is threatening to scupper an Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) scheduled for Vietnam in October, diplomats said Tuesday.
Some sources say one hoped-for solution could involve the EU agreeing to attend the summit but only if military-ruled Myanmar is represented at a junior level.
The ministers are to meet Friday and Saturday near the Dutch town of Maastricht for informal talks including the stand-off over Myanmar, which has already led to other key meetings being cancelled.
Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot, whose country currently holds the European Union’s presidency, has said he hopes for a decision at the weekend meeting, but cannot guarantee anything.
“I hope that we will … be able to work towards a consensus on the question of participation in the ASEM summit on October 8-9 in Hanoi,” he said in a letter of invitation to his EU counterparts, a copy of which was seen by
The row centres on a refusal by some EU states to allow Myanmar to attend the Hanoi summit. The EU has a visa ban in place against the Myanmar regime. Britain, the colonial ruler of what was then Burma, is the EU’s harshest opponent of having any dealings with Yangon.
The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) wants its newer members — Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar — to be included in the summit in return for the participation of 10 new EU members who joined the EU in May.
EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten said in June that the Myanmar regime had overseen a “calamitous” deterioration in the life of its impoverished people, and had failed to deliver on promises of political reform.
Those broken promises included keeping democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest, and refusing to allow her National League for Democracy unfettered participation in a national political convention, he said.
Former Dutch foreign minister Hans van den Broek, the EU’s special envoy on the issue, will debrief the weekend EU meeting at a castle outside Maastricht on his talks in recent weeks.
But a Dutch diplomat stressed that it is impossible to predict what will happen. “It’s too difficult to say at this moment. We hope we can get an agreement. It would be very good. But I can’t say at this moment,” he said.
Another EU diplomat expressed cautious optimism for a solution.
“We hope that were moving towards a solution that would involve the Hanoi summit being held with European participation, but with the Burmese not represented at full strength,” he said.
Diplomats also underlined that concern about Myanmar was shared by most EU states, even if Britain has spearheaded the push against Yangon.
“Everybody’s been concerned about it. Britain has been out in front, but I think it would be wrong to suggest that it has been a Britain-only campaign,” said one.
“I think the Dutch (EU presidency) is keen to find a solution that allows us to attend Hanoi and everybody is keen to find a way of keeping the ASEM process going,” he added.
ASEM groups the EU, seven members of the 10-nation ASEAN, plus China, Japan and South Korea.