Laos slams Myanmar sanctions, pleads non-interference

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SINGAPORE, Nov 18 (Reuters) Laos condemnned the Western economic sanctions imposed on Myanmar after its brutal crackdown on democracy protests, calling on fellow members of the ASEAN regional bloc to stay out of each other's internal affairs.

Laos, a poor and landlocked communist state of 6.5 million people, has close political and economic ties with Myanmar. It was the first country Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein visited after his appointment last month.

''We denounce the imposition of sanctions or economic embargoes against Myanmar,'' Lao Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh told Reuters in an interview today ahead of an Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit.

Myanmar's junta in September crushed the biggest pro-democracy protests in nearly 20 years, killing at least 15 people. The crackdown brought international condemnation and tougher sanctions from the United States.

The 10-nation Association of ASEAN, which Myanmar and neighbouring Laos joined in 1997, has come under intense international pressure to get tougher on Myanmar.

''All measures taken to address the situation in Myanmar should be in strict conformity with ASEAN's fundamental principles,'' Bouphavanh said through a Lao government translator.

''ASEAN should adhere strictly to its fundamental principles of respecting each other's independence and sovereignty.'' Asked if his government, like Myanmar, would order the shooting of unarmed protesters if there were pro-democracy riots, Bouphavanh declined to give a direct answer.

''The best way for us is to do everything not to let something like that happen,'' he said.

When pressed, he added: ''I do not think that there is any leader of a given nation who does not love his nation or his people.'' On Friday, the US Senate voted unanimously to urge ASEAN to suspend Myanmar until the regime shows respect for human rights. ASEAN Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong told Reuters yesterday that this was unlikely to happen.

ASEAN leaders are set to sign a new charter on Tuesday, as well as a blueprint for an ASEAN Economic Community and a declaration on the environment, but diplomats expect that the ASEAN summit will be dominated by the Myanmar issue.

REUTERS SG HT1252

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