Wed, 24 Jul 1996

U.S. and EU attack Myanmar's rights record

JAKARTA (JP): The United States and the European Union (EU), sitting together at a regional discussion with Myanmar yesterday, lambasted the latter's human rights record and called for improvements.

Ireland's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs D. Spring, on behalf of the EU, urged the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) -- the official name of Myanmar's government -- to bring about "democratic reforms and implement, without delay, respect for human rights".

"The EU council of ministers ... expressed its concern at the continuing deterioration in the political situation there, a concern which I must relay to this meeting," Spring told the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum (ARF).

The ARF groups ASEAN countries -- Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam -- with major powers, including China, the EU, Japan, Russia and the United States.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher urged the ARF to use its influence on the Myanmar government, warning that Yangon's repression of human rights threatened regional stability.

"The SLORC's refusal to heed the desire of a majority of the Burmese (Myanmarese) people for a transition to democratic rule and its increased harassment of the democratic opposition not only violates basic, universal human rights but raises the chance of instability, bloodshed and migration within Burma and across its borders," Christopher said.

The United States and the EU have spearheaded a campaign to isolate Myanmar in an effort to compel the government to respect the results of the 1990 national elections won by the opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

However ASEAN, which continues to pursue a constructive engagement policy toward Myanmar, has welcomed the country as an observer to the association, despite a warning from an EU official, Manuel Marin, that this could jeopardize the strengthening of ties between the two groups.

Christopher appeared to take a softer stance than before, saying that all countries participating in the ARF should use their engagement with Myanmar to promote concrete results, especially after the ARF meetings.

"Burma's participation in the ARF and its closer relationship with ASEAN makes its especially important that the process of reconciliation move forward, not backward," the state secretary said.

Meanwhile, Spring continued to press Myanmar to give a full and satisfactory explanation of how "the Honorary Consul for Denmark, Finland and certain other states", James Nichols, died in custody on June 22.

"We ask that the Myanmar authorities provide this information," Spring said.

Addressing a news conference on Monday, Myanmar Foreign Minister Ohn Gyaw, who represented his country at yesterday's forum, said that Nichols died after taking food which was "not compatible" with his state of health.

Gyaw asserted that Nichols is a "citizen of Myanmar (Burma), and is not qualified to represent any foreign country as a consul" because he was convicted of illegally possessing foreign currency in 1983 and sentenced to 75 days in prison.

In addition to the Myanmar issue, both Christopher and Spring touched on security matters, especially those in the South China Sea and the Korean Peninsula.

Both ministers agreed that the South China Sea problem, sparked by overlapping claims over the Spratly islands by China and four ASEAN countries -- Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam -- be solved in a peaceful manner.

Regarding the Korean Peninsula issue, they both agreed to continue efforts in furthering positive developments on the peninsula. They called on countries participating in the ARF to contribute financial support for the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, which aims to avert the region from a nuclear disaster.

"Measured against the costs of heightened tensions -- let alone armed conflict -- such support is a responsible investment in the security and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region," Christopher said. (rid)