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EU pushes ASEAN on Myanmar human rights

San Suu Kyi, a Myanmar opposition leader, has been under house arrest since 2003.

world Updated: Mar 22, 2007 17:13 IST

The European Union said it would put pressure on members of the Southeast Asian regional grouping ASEAN at talks here on Thursday to urge Myanmar to improve its human rights record.

Foreign ministers from the 27-country EU and the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations were expected to agree a declaration enshrining an enhanced political partnership.

But European participants said that Myanmar, ruled by a military junta, was a significant hurdle to establishing a free trade deal between the two regional blocs.

External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said Myanmar, which the EU and the United States accuse of massive human rights violations and repressing political dissent, was not ready to be included in such an agreement.

"We want to see Myanmar change and this of course, I would say, is the first step. We have not seen that yet, but we are going on," the commissioner told journalists before going into Thursday's meeting.

Ferrero-Waldner said the EU would discuss human rights with Myanmar's foreign minister who is in Nuremberg, but added "it is also for our ASEAN partners to bring them into going into human rights, into democracy, having an inclusive national dialogue and finally seeing Aung San Suu Kyi released."

Aung San Suu Kyi, a Myanmar opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, has been under house arrest since 2003.

On trade, Ferrero-Waldner said she favoured granting preferential conditions to selected ASEAN states but leave the door open for others to join later.

"My idea is that we can start with those countries that really are ready for it and then that the others... can then opt in."

ASEAN's membership ranges from wealthy Singapore to impoverished Cambodia and Laos.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, called on Wednesday for the EU and ASEAN to pool their combined resources of more than one billion people and work together on tackling climate change and international terrorism.

"The era of nation states is over, at least to the extent that none of our countries can solve these problems on its own," he said.

Steinmeier said the EU's recent commitment to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide would be futile unless other countries took measures to curb pollution.

"These targets can only be fully effective if other international partners come on board too," he said.

Steinmeier said ASEAN could also play a significant role in international efforts to find peace in the Middle East, where a Palestinian unity government was unveiled on Thursday.

"A number of our partners in ASEAN have developed their own close links to the Middle East and at a time when a number of efforts are under way... our ASEAN partners can be very helpful as they have something to offer of their own."

The gathering in the southern German city marks a milestone as EU and ASEAN are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the establishment of their relations.

ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.