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Leaders set to admit Burma despite

Subject: Leaders set to admit Burma despite US ire 

Monday, April 28, 1997 Sydney Morning Herld
Leaders set to admit Burma despite US ire 
By MARK BAKER, Herald Correspondent in Bangkok

South-East Asian governments are closing ranks in defiance of United States 
pressure to block the imminent admission of Burma to full membership of their 
regional alliance.

Thailand yesterday joined Malaysia and Indonesia in rejecting US calls to 
stall Burma's membership of the seven-country Association of South East Asian 
Nations (ASEAN) because of continuing human rights violations by Burma's 
military regime.

A meeting next month of regional foreign ministers is expected to endorse 
Burma's entry to ASEAN by as early as July. 

The US, which last week banned new American investment in Burma, stepped up 
its attack on the regime at the weekend by making its first public call for 
Burma's exclusion from ASEAN.

The State Department spokesman, Mr Nick Burns, confirmed in Washington that 
the US, which has a dialogue partnership with ASEAN, was actively lobbying 
regional governments on the issue: "We're trying to use our influence with the 
ASEAN partners to make the point that Burma should be given a stiff message 
that it's not welcome." But in a sign that the Burma issue could seriously 
strain relations between the US and the region, ASEAN leaders are signalling 
that they will stick to their plans to admit Burma, Cambodia and Laos to the 
grouping this year.

The tough US stand will further highlight Australia's reluctance to confront 
regional governments on human rights issues. The Federal Government last week 
refused to join the US investment ban.

A spokesman for the Thai Foreign Ministry yesterday flatly rejected any delay 
in Burma's admission to ASEAN. "Whatever happens, Thailand maintains its 
standpoint to support Burma in becoming a member of ASEAN because we have 
already made the decision.

"We accept the right of the US to declare this, but Thailand also has the 
right to its position ... Thailand must always be careful and sincere in its 
relations with neighbouring countries," the spokesman said. Malaysia, which 
will host a series of meetings this year marking ASEAN's 30th anniversary, is 
insisting that the deteriorating political situation in Burma should not be 
used to delay membership. 

Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam have also opposed the US investment ban and 
reaffirmed their support for ASEAN's policy of "constructive engagement", 
under which regional governments are expanding economic and political links in 
the hope of encouraging political reform in Burma. 

The Philippines - the most democratic of the ASEAN countries - is the only one 
that so far has not directly rejected the US call to block Burma's membership. 
The Philippine Foreign Minister, Mr Domingo Siazon, said yesterday that the US 
position would be considered when regional ministers met in Kuala Lumpur on 
May 31. 

Burma's democratic leader, Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, praised the US investment ban 
and endorsed moves to keep the country out of ASEAN.

The Burmese leadership renewed calls for ASEAN to resist the US pressure. 
"ASEAN will have to stick to its guns to show that nobody dictates to us," a 
senior official said.