Saturday, 28 February 2009

Myanmar, Cambodia bar rights activists from talks

Asia Pacific News
28 February 2009

HUA HIN, Thailand: Myanmar and Cambodia blocked leading activists from attending talks with Southeast Asian leaders Saturday, campaigners said, embroiling the bloc in a fresh row over human rights.

Leaders from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) were set to hold rare talks with so-called civil society representatives on Saturday at the summit in the Thai beach resort of Hua Hin.

But Thein Sein, the prime minister of Myanmar, and his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen said they would not take part if activists from their own countries were present, a leading rights body said.

"We heard that they were not happy with the possible attendance of these two activists and they threatened to not be present in today's meeting if the two attended," Yap Swee Seng, executive director of the Asia Forum for Human Rights and Development, told AFP.

"We are really disappointed and regret such a decision taken by the two countries, because we are of the view that dialogue will help understanding between the two sides and to forge cooperation to resolve issues together."

The row blew up just a day after ASEAN foreign ministers discussed a proposed regional rights body that is to be set up under the bloc's landmark new charter, which came into force in December.

The barred activists were Khin Omar, a democracy campaigner and women's rights activist from Myanmar, and Pen Somony, a volunteer coordinator from Cambodia.

Khin Omar said that there would now be a 20-minute session of talks from which she and Pen Somony would be excluded and then a 10-minute session in which Thailand's premier and foreign minister would meet them outside.

Human rights have been a recurring issue for ASEAN, which includes military-ruled Myanmar and two communist states. The group has repeatedly been pressed to use its influence to improve the rights situation in Myanmar.

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