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August 2, 2007

EU forges ahead with ties despite errant Myanmar
JavierSolanaThe European Union has vowed to deepen relations with the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), despite disappointment over the bloc's continued kid's glove treatment of military-ruled Myanmar. Javier Solana, EU foreign policy chief, stressed that ASEAN is composed of 10 nations and an errant member would not change the union's engagement with the regional grouping.

"The ASEAN decides how to deal with member states that belong to ASEAN," he told a select group of reporters on the sidelines of the ASEAN security forum in Manila.

"We define our own policy toward Myanmar, the ASEAN countries will have to decide on what to do (with Myanmar)," he added. "We are not going to take ASEAN hostage of a country."

Solana, however, did not hide his disappointment over the obvious reluctance of Myanmar's military government to implement democratic reforms and to free political prisoners, especially democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi who has been under detention for the past 17 years.

"I don't see enough improvements in order to change our policy vis-a-vis Myanmar," he said. "I would like to see much more being done by Myanmar."

Solana expressed confidence that a landmark charter, which might be approved by ASEAN leaders within the year, would give the bloc more impetus to push Myanmar to reform.

ASEAN ministers agreed earlier in the week to include in the proposed charter a provision enabling the creation of a human rights body, details of which have yet to be negotiated.

"I think the work that they have done in the charter is a very good one," Solana said. "The fact that they put inside the body for human rights is a very important result."

"I am pretty sure that it's going to contribute to raise the standards of human rights among the countries of ASEAN," he added. "This is the purpose of putting that in the charter."

Solana arrived in Manila on Tuesday to meet with ASEAN ministers and attend the 27-member ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the only regional security forum in Asia.

He said the EU is willing to share its experiences in framing the charter.

"We are looking forward to learning more about the drafting of the new ASEAN charter and stand ready, if asked, to share with you our experiences from the European integration," he told the ASEAN ministers during their meeting.

Solana and the ASEAN ministers also discussed the progress in the implementation of the March 2007 Nuremburg Declaration aimed at further broadening and deepening the ties between EU and ASEAN.

He hailed ASEAN for spearheading all the major international fora in East Asia, putting the bloc in the "driving seat of East Asian regional cooperation."

Solana expressed hope that ASEAN would succeed in its plan to create a single market by 2015 in order to further enhance trade between the two blocs.

The EU has proposed to sign a comprehensive free trade agreement with ASEAN within two years. The two parties have formally launched negotiations for the agreement in May.

The EU is the second largest export market and the third largest trading partner of ASEAN countries. In 2005, EU imports to ASEAN were estimated at 45 billion euros, while EU imports from ASEAN were valued at 71 billion euros.

ASEAN exports to the EU countries include machinery, agricultural products, chemicals, textiles and clothings.

ASEAN, which was formed in 1967 at the height of the Cold War, groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam. Its estimated combined population is 600 million. www.earthtimes.org

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