C AMBODIA should join Myanmar and Laos as full members of Asean in July next year
as planned, according to a well placed Asean source.
But a formal announcement welcoming the three nations into the Asean fold will be
delayed until after an Asean-European Ministerial Meeting due next February in Singapore.
An informal summit of Asean leaders held in Jakarta Nov 30 - one session attended
by Prime Ministers Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Hun Sen - resolved the three nations
would join the regional grouping together but refused to reveal a date for their
The decision was met with concern in Phnom Penh that the advantages to Cambodia of
Asean membership - including participation in the Asean Free Trade Area (AFTA) which
will offer reduced tariffs on trade - would be delayed as a result of international
condemnation of Myanmar's record on human rights.
Cambodian Foreign Minister Ung Huot would not comment on a specific date for entry
into Asean but said it would occur "on time".
Documents seen by the Post confirm Cambodia's entry to Asean in July 1997. The papers
- detailing discussions between Asean leaders during the Nov 30 Jakarta summit -
confirmed Asean will admit the three countries on the occasion of the regional grouping's
According to those papers, the decision to delay the announcement on the date of
entry of Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar was made at the request of the European Union.
An informed observer rationalized the decision by suggesting the EU feared an announcement
of an imminent entry date would undermine ongoing pressure on Myanmar over human
and political rights.
"It was a diplomatic move," the source said.
"But Malaysia's [Prime Minister] Mahathir is very keen to see 10 Asean members
as foreseen by the organization's founding fathers. To achieve that vision while
the organization's 30th anniversary is being celebrated in Malaysia would be a great
victory for him."
The source said there were private concerns within Asean - which currently groups
Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, the Philippines and Indonesia - about
Myanmar's international "pariah" status and Cambodia's problems with the
rule of law.
"Asean understands the concerns of Europe and the United States [about human
rights] but says, 'Hey, we've got to live with these guys'. Sure, they are concerned
about political stability in Cambodia, but they believe that is more likely assured
if Cambodia is part of Asean," he said.
"But the Asean charter is very specific about non-interference in the internal
affairs of member states...the policy of Asean is to use constructive, gentle persuasion.
"Notwithstanding the political tensions in Cambodia, membership is assured to
encourage investment in the Mekong basin which will lead to development," the