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Date: Sat, 22 May 1999 23:27:59 -0500 (CDT)
From: Michael Eisenscher <meisenscher@igc.org>
Subject: Thailand Caves in to Burma, Cancels Union Conference
Article: 65174
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.20693.19990523122246@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

Thailand Cancels Union Conference

By Patrick Mcdowell, Associated Press, Friday 21 May 1999; 5:41 a.m. EDT

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) -- Thai officials have abruptly canceled an international trade union conference expected to discuss forced labor and democracy in neighboring Myanmar, organizers said today.

The conference, months in the planning, was to run next week at the same time as a controversial summit in Bangkok between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the European Union.

The EU-ASEAN meeting has been delayed for nearly a year due to objections by European countries over the participation of Myanmar, a member of ASEAN since 1997 and the target of EU sanctions over the poor human-rights record of its military government.

The Singapore-based International Confederation of Free Trade Unions-Asia and Pacific Regional Organizations disclosed today that the Thai government withdrew permission this week for labor the conference, which was to bring together 130 people from 20 countries.

Michel Caillouet, the European Commission's ambassador in Thailand, told reporters that the EU-ASEAN meeting would go on despite the labor conference's cancellation.

There is no link between the two programs. The timing appears to be a coincidence, Caillouet said. We would not be happy, because we support free speech. But there is no link.

The union organization said that the Thai Foreign Ministry had approved the gathering, which was to discuss trade union action in Myanmar, also known as Burma. Members of the Myanmar pro-democracy movement were invited to attend.

In a letter received Thursday, however, the Thai Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, said that holding the conference would result in negative effects on the good relations between Thailand and its neighbor.

The Singapore-based union organization said in a statement that Bangkok's decision was a sad reflection on the so-called sovereignty of Thailand.

Signed by secretary general Takashi Izumi, the statement said that the incident would add to the negative view trade unions have had of the candidacy of a Thai deputy prime minister, Supachai Pantichpakdi, to head the World Trade Organization.

Officials at the union organization said on condition of anonymity that they would eventually hold the conference in another country. No date has been set.

The EU-ASEAN meeting is extremely sensitive and has highlighted rifts between the two regional blocs since Myanmar was admitted as a member two years ago.

EU officials have refused to sit at the same table with ASEAN if Myanmar takes a seat as an equal member, and ASEAN has insisted that Myanmar cannot be relegated to observer status.

Caillouet said in a briefing that the meeting was finally going ahead because ASEAN has agreed to come not as a bloc but as separate countries. Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia will be present but will not be allowed to speak.

The other ASEAN members -- Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam -- have accords with the EU that take into account human-rights and will participate fully.