Asian, European ministers to discuss economic crisis

HANOI: Foreign ministers from Asia and Europe meet in Vietnam on Monday to discuss the global economic slowdown, but Myanmar's trial of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is also likely to grab attention.

Representatives of 45 nations - including at least 30 foreign ministers - are to attend the two-day meeting in Hanoi of the European Union, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, China, Japan, South Korea, India and Pakistan.

The Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) is expected to seek solutions to the economic slowdown and ways to enhance economic cooperation.

Officials will also discuss climate change and communicable diseases such as swine flu.

But the ministers are also expected to broach the controversy over Myanmar's treatment of Suu Kyi, whose trial in Yangon resumes Monday.

The ruling military junta has accused her of violating the conditions of her house arrest by allowing an American intruder to stay at her home without official permission. She faces up to five years in prison.

Critics have accused the junta of seeking to use the incident as a pretext to keep Suu Kyi in detention through elections scheduled for next year, the culmination of the junta's "roadmap to democracy," which has been criticized as a fig leaf for continued military rule.

In Brussels last week, EU foreign ministers discussed increasing sanctions against Myanmar's junta to pressure it to restore democracy in the Southeast Asian country, but failed to agree on new measures. Instead they signaled they would urge countries with close ties to Myanmar such as China, India and Thailand to exert influence over it to change its ways.

European and Asian governments have rarely seen eye-to-eye on how to deal with Myanmar's junta, which refused to accept a 1990 election victory by Suu Kyi's party.

Carl Thayer, a Vietnam expert at the Australian Defense Force Academy, said there is no consensus about how to deal with Myanmar in Europe or Asia. Some Asian countries are losing patience with Myanmar, he said, while some European nations are becoming less confident that sanctions work.

"There will be criticism of the way the junta is dealing with Aung San Suu Kyi," Thayer said. "ASEM is likely to take the high road of urging national reconciliation and an inclusionary political process." Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win is due to attend the Hanoi meeting and is scheduled to hold talks with EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

ASEAN members generally refrain from criticizing each other's domestic policies, but last week ASEAN issued a statement expressing concern about Suu Kyi's trial.

Suu Kyi's current term of house arrest was to have ended May 27.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has been in detention without trial for more than 13 of the past 19 years.