Sat, 12 Mar 2005

ASEAN, EU increase pressure on Myanmar

Ivy Susanti and Adianto P. Simamora, The Jakarta Post/Jakarta

The world's two influential regional organizations -- the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the European Union (EU) -- put more pressure on Myanmar on Thursday to pave the way for democracy by asking its military junta to grant access to a UN representative and to free democracy-icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

The ministers from both ASEAN and the EU issued a joint statement after the 15th ASEAN-EU Ministerial Meeting (AEMM) on Thursday. They noted the developments after the recent national convention in Myanmar and expressed "their strong hopes for concrete results" from that convention.

"The ministers called on Myanmar in a written statement to grant access to the special representative of the United Nations secretary-general and to continue effective cooperation with all United Nations agencies," without mentioning the request for the release of Suu Kyi, said.

The demand for her release came from Luxembourg, which currently holds the EU presidency.

Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said on Thursday the EU specifically asked Myanmar to release Nobel laureate Suu Kyi.

"We asked, from the European side, for the release of all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi," Asselborn said.

Asselborn said the EU believed ASEAN members could play a major role in propelling Myanmar toward democracy.

"We do our best and I think also on the Asian side, a lot of pressure is possible. We have to help this regime to see that the only way in the future of the 21st century is democracy," he said.

Separately, Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda, the host of the AEMM, said that implementing the values of human rights, democracy and practicing good governance in Myanmar were "pressing issues".

"But we welcome Myanmar's willingness to explain the developments in its country," Hassan said on the sidelines of the meeting.

On the security front, the ministers reaffirmed their commitment to combat terrorism in accordance with international obligations, the UN charter and general norms of international law, including respect for human rights and humanitarian law.

"The ministers emphasize the importance of addressing the root causes of terrorism and avoiding the identification of terrorism with any particular religion or ethnic group or nationality," the joint statement said.

"We reaffirmed our commitment to strengthen cooperation to combat terrorism as well as transnational crimes," Asselborn said.

With regard the tsunami disaster, the ministers underlined the importance of coordination of assistance programs and their alignment with national reconstruction strategies as well as supported the initiative to establish an early warning system in the region.

The ministers also shared views on North Korea, the Middle East, Iraq, the implementation of WTO's Doha Agenda and the future relations between the two regions.

It was decided that the next meeting of foreign ministers would take place in Europe in 2007.

Meanwhile, European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner urged countries in ASEAN and EU to work together in the reconstruction of tsunami-affected areas.

"It was very sad to see what happened, therefore we have to work together," Ferrero-Waldner, who visited Aceh on Friday, said at a press conference in Aceh.

"The world must not forget the terrible devastation the tsunami brought to Southeast Asia. The generous promises made in the immediate aftermath must be kept. Of the 350 million euros (US$460 million) that the European Commission alone hopes to make available for post-tsunami reconstruction I intend to devote over 200 million euros to Indonesia," she said.