EU seeking deal on election mission to Myanmar

26th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

The European Union is seeking a deal with Myanmar to send a mission to Yangon to discuss the country's upcoming elections, a Spanish official said Wednesday during an EU-ASEAN conference in Madrid.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton hopes to "finalise" agreement on an "exploratory" EU mission during talks in the Spanish capital with Myanmar Foreign Minister U Nyan Win, said the official, Jose Eugenio Salarich, in charge of Asia-Pacific affairs at the Spanish foreign ministry.

The EU said last month it hopes to send a team to Myanmar to discuss the elections, scheduled by the end of November, amid concerns the vote will not be free and fair.

The National League for Democracy (NLD), party of Myanmar's detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, is boycotting the polls, the first for 20 years, as it would have been forced to oust its iconic leader and recognise the junta's constitution if it had signed up.

Suu Kyi's NLD won the last elections in 1990, but the military junta, in power since 1962, refused to recognise those results.

Since then the Nobel Peace prize winner has spent much of the time under house arrest.

Ashton will make clear to U Nyan Win that "if the Myanmar authorities want a credible political process they have to respect a minimum standard of democracy," Salarich said.

The junta in Yangon must include "all political parties -- government parties and opposition parties" and also "release Suu Kyi and other political prisoners," he said.

But he warned that the EU mission would be "very complicated, very delicate" with "no guarantees" that it will be able to see opposition leaders.

Myanmar said earlier this month that it does not want foreign election observers at the polls.

The talks between Ashton and U Nyan Win are scheduled on the sidelines of a one-day ministerial conference between foreign ministers and senior officials from the 27 EU members and the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The global economic crisis, security issues and climate change are also on the agenda.

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, opened the conference with a call for greater cooperation to confront the crisis.

"Our friends in ASEAN are emerging (from the crisis) with less problems than Europe is experiencing, thanks to its dynamism and the general situation in Asia and the Pacific," he told the delegates.

He said EU hopes ASEAN can take "an open and comprehensive attitude to jointly confront the temptations of protectionism, open markets, create a favourable environment for investments and cooperate in efforts the economic and institutional framework at a global financial level."

The ministers are also expected to discuss relations with China, given the role that the Asian giant plays in trade with both the EU and ASEAN.

An ASEAN-China free trade pact came into effect earlier this year, establishing the world's biggest free-trade zone in terms of population, covering nearly two billion consumers.

The European Union is the world's largest market for Chinese exports, but the bloc has voiced concerns about growing protectionism and unequal treatment for European firms in China.

Salarich said the ministers will also discuss the tensions between North and South Korea.

But he said the recent turmoil in Thailand is not on the agenda as it is an "internal situation" in a member country, although the country's representative at the talks, Jitriya Pinthong, deputy permanent secretary of the foreign ministry, may make a statement about it.

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

© 2010 AFP

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