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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - EU-ASEAN summit to kick off

EU-ASEAN summit to kick off

Observers call on delegates to address trial of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Photo by:
SOVANN PHILONG

Homeless people, like those pictured, have been targetted by authorities ahead of today's ASEAN-EU summit.

DELEGATIONS from 40 European Union and ASEAN countries are to gather in Phnom Penh today for the 17th EU-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, an event likely to be overshadowed by the ongoing trial of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar.

According to a statement released Tuesday by the delegation for the European Commission in Cambodia, the meeting will focus on strengthening inter-regional cooperation on security, economic and social issues. It will also include discussions of other issues of "mutual concern" such as the global economic crisis, food and energy security, counterterrorism, transnational crime and the environment.

"The EU and ASEAN are two successful examples of regional integration in the world," Benita Ferrero-Waldner, European commissioner for external relations, was quoted as saying.

"I look forward to an ambitious agenda for joint action being agreed at the Ministerial Meeting."

Looming over the summit, however, is the fate of pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi, whose trial in Myanmar has now entered its second week. 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

lakeside house in central Yangon.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said the issue was not on the formal agenda for the summit, but added the situation could change as the meetings unfold.

"I cannot speculate on any issue concerning Myanmar. It depends on the point of view of the co-chairs once the sessions take place," he said, referring to Foreign Minister

Photo by:

AFP

Nyan Win (centre), spokesman of Aung San Suu Kyi's party National League for Democracy (NLD), and one of her lawyers, speaks to reporters inside of the party headquarters after he came back from the trial in Insein prison in Yangon on Tuesday.

Hor Namhong and Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout, who are to chair the meeting.

More than 40 foreign ministers from Asia and Europe  meeting in Hanoi this week jointly called for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, according to a statement issued at the conclusion of the ASEM meeting on Tuesday.

"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 restrictions placed on political parties," the statement said.

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

During a meeting with Myanmar's Foreign Minister Nyan Win on the sidelines of the talks Monday, the EU also made its own calls for Aung San Suu Kyi's "immediate release".

Possibility of talks

Rafael Dochao Moreno, charge d'affairs of the delegation of the European Commission to Cambodia, said he could not comment on whether EU delegates would raise the issue in formal proceedings during the Phnom Penh talks, which generally do not address bilateral issues.

  ASEAN AND EU LEADERS HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO KICK START... THE RESUMPTION OF THE DEMOCRATIC PROCESS.

"In the formal agenda, there is nothing on specific countries," he said.

"This is a multilateral meeting ...  and individual issues are not, in principle, part of the agenda."

But he added that the Aung San Suu Kyi trial could force itself into sideline talks between delegates this evening.

"I can't imagine the EU and ASEAN ministers not discussing Myanmar under the present circumstances," Moreno said.

In a joint statement released Tuesday, the Sam Rainsy Party and Human Rights Party backed the call, saying Aung San Suu Kyi's trial should be on the agenda at the summit.

"ASEAN and EU leaders have an opportunity to kick-start national reconciliation and the resumption of the democratic process in Myanmar," said the statement, made on behalf of 29 opposition parliamentarians.

"We urge you to seize this opening."

Sok Sam Oeun, chairman of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, agreed, saying that "in order to develop democracy in ASEAN, it is better for the ASEAN ministers to discuss [Aung San Suu Kyi]".

Long-time prisoner

The opposition icon took the stand at her trial Tuesday as the Myanmar junta defied international outrage by threatening to extend her house arrest even if she is not convicted.

Aung San Suu Kyi said that she did not violate the terms of her house arrest by offering "temporary shelter" to a US man who swam to her lakeside home.

She was testifying for the first time at the maximum security Insein prison in Yangon, in a case which has drawn widespread international condemnation of the country's iron-fisted military junta.

"I didn't," the 63-year-old replied when a judge asked her whether she had breached the restriction order keeping her at her residence, according to reporters and diplomats present at the hearing.

She said the first she knew of the bizarre visit by American army veteran John Yettaw was when her assistant woke her up at around dawn on May 4 to tell her that a man had arrived at the house.

"I did not inform them," she said when asked by the judge whether she had told Myanmar's military authorities about the intrusion.

Aung San Suu Kyi was also asked about claims that she had given Yettaw food and let him stay at the house, replying: "I allowed him to have temporary shelter."

In a surprise development, Myanmar authorities informed Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday morning that her six-year period of house arrest was officially over - although she still remains in detention at the prison, her party said.

"We don't know whether we should be happy or sad, because she is still in detention on these charges," said Nyan Win, spokesman for the National League for Democracy (NLD).

"I cannot guess the verdict but according to the law, she should be completely free."

Aung San Suu Kyi has been detained for 13 of the last 19 years, since the junta prevented her party from forming a government following its landslide victory in elections in 1990.

Aung San Suu Kyi's Washington-based international counsel, Jared Genser, said Tuesday that a UN panel had already found that extending her house arrest would be illegal under both international and Myanmar law.

The junta is also trying Yettaw and two female aides who live with Aung San Suu Kyi in her house. Yettaw has said that he swam across a lake to the house to warn her of a vision he had that she would be assassinated.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP AND MEAS SOKCHEA

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