Myanmar Overshadows Europe-ASEAN Meetings

PHNOM PENH ~ Talks between Southeast Asian and European ministers opened in the Cambodian capital on Thursday with pledges to boost ties, but Myanmar’s controversial trial of Aung San Suu Kyi loomed over proceedings.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said in a speech that the meetings would “mark another milestone for expanding and deepening” relations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and European Union (EU).

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen echoed his sentiments during the opening ceremony, but officials however indicated Myanmar would likely take up much of the agenda.

Asked what the message would be to Myanmar, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, whose country is the current ASEAN chair, said: “I think you will see in the joint statement (at the end of the day).”

ASEAN ministers in an informal meeting Wednesday confronted Myanmar on its treatment of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, who is on trial for violating her house arrest after an American man swam to her lakeside home.

The group traditionally refrains from interfering in the internal affairs of its members, but issued a rare rebuke to Myanmar last week over the detention of the Nobel peace prize winner.

“The discussion in the room back there was that it (the issue of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners)… affects ASEAN’s image and ASEAN’s collective interests,” ASEAN chief Surin Pitsuwan said late on Wednesday.

Myanmar’s rights abuses, along with North Korea’s recent nuclear test, dominated much of the agenda earlier this week during similar meetings between Asian and EU ministers in Vietnam.

They issued a statement in Hanoi calling for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners in Myanmar.

The meetings in Phnom Penh were also set to cover issues ranging from the global financial crisis to energy and food security.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been in detention for 13 of the past 19 years since her National League for Democracy party won a landslide victory in 1990 polls but was not allowed to take power.

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