Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Asia, Europe ministers agree on NKorea, Burma

(Bangkok Post-AFP) -Foreign Ministers from Asia and Europe were to condemn North Korea's announced nuclear test and to call for the release of Burma opposition democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, according to draft statements seen by AFP.

Delegates said the two issues vaulted to the top of the agenda at wide-ranging talks by the Asia-Europe (ASEM) Foreign Ministers, who were to end two days of discussions later Tuesday.

Ministers "condemn" the underground test, which Stalinist North Korea announced on Monday, said the draft.

The draft statement said North Korea's test constitutes "a clear violation" of six-party agreements and relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions.

North Korea announced its test Monday morning as the ASEM ministers began their talks.

It said the test, its second since 2006, was for "self-defence," but the move angered Pyongyang's allies as well as its enemies and sparked unanimous condemnation from the United Nations Security Council.

ASEM groups the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) with the European Union (EU), China, South Korea, Japan, Mongolia, Pakistan and India.

Japan and China are also involved with Russia, the two Koreas, and the United States in the six-party effort to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear programmes in exchange for economic aid.

"We had good discussions at the working dinner yesterday evening and it produced a clear and specific statement deploring the test," British junior foreign minister Bill Rammell told reporters before AFP saw the draft document.

A separate draft pronouncement called for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, who was set to testify on Tuesday at her trial in Rangoon.

"In light of the concern about the recent development to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, ministers... called for the early release of those under detention and the lifting of restriction placed on political parties," said the draft, seen late Monday.

She faces up to five years in jail on charges of violating her house arrest after an incident in which an American man swam to her house.

Ministers have agreed to a text that "makes specific reference to the release of political prisoners and particularly Aung San Suu Kyi," Rammell said.

But Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt cautioned that:
"Things are moving forward but nothing is ready until it's ready."

France's human rights minister, Rama Yade, said that while ministers had agreed to the statements about North Korea and Burma, "everything could change again, but for the moment they are along that line."

During a meeting Monday with Burma Foreign Minister Nyan Win on the sidelines of the ASEM talks, the EU called for Aung San Suu Kyi's immediate release, Czech foreign minister Jan Kohout said.

In a rare move, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) last week issued an expression of "grave concern" over the treatment of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Burma's Southeast Asian neighbours traditionally prefer not to be seen as intervening in the affairs of their members.

Burma belongs to both the 10-member Asean and ASEM.

An Asian diplomat said the foreign ministers' closing statement was also expected to include a reference to Sri Lanka. The government recently proclaimed victory in its long-running war against Tamil Tiger rebels but the fighting has left about 300,000 people displaced.

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