Snub to Europe as Asean welcomes Burma

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The Independent Online
The leaders of Asean, the Association of South East Asian Nations, sent a strong message to Europe at the weekend that they will not tolerate foreign criticism of their records on human rights.

At an informal summit in Jakarta on Saturday, the seven leaders confirmed that Burma would be granted full membership of the organisation, which includes Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. But they stopped short of naming a date, saying only that Burma's membership would be granted simultaneously with that of Asean's other observer members, Laos and Cambodia.

Burma's candidacy caused a furore when it was announced in July, especially in the United States and the European Union, where concern runs high for the Burmese democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and her sufferings at the hands of the ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council (Slorc). Recently some Asean states, including the Philippines and Singapore, also expressed reserv- ations. Saturday's statement appears to be a compromise intended to satisfy Asean's more cautious members while presenting a defiant face to foreign critics.

The joint statement also noted "with increasing concern the efforts of one member of the EU to introduce extraneous issues, such as the question of East Timor . . ." This is a reference to Portugal, the former colonial ruler of East Timor, which was annexed by Indonesia in 1976 but which the UN still considers to be under Portuguese stewardship.

The struggles of the Timorese resistance against Indonesian oppression were recognised in October with the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Jose Ramos-Horta, an exiled freedom fighter, and the territory's bishop, Carlos Belo.

"Portugal is making the East Timor issue a condition for Asean-EU co- operation," complained Ali Alatas, Indonesia's Foreign Minister. "They have failed to achieve their purpose so far but it has become increasingly an irritant in the relationship between Asean and the EU."