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24 July 2009

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Thai PM: Asean has ‘no grounds’ to expel Myanmar

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The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) will not consider expelling Myanmar over the detention of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, rejecting US calls, Thailand's prime minister was quoted by AFP as saying Thursday.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Thai television Wednesday that the regional bloc should consider kicking out the military-ruled member state if it does not free the Nobel laureate, who is on trial in prison.

But Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, speaking as current chair of the 10-state grouping, said that while Asean and the West "have the same goal, we cannot implement the same policy."

"There are not enough grounds to do that (expel Myanmar). We have already done what we can under the Asean mechanism," said Abhisit, referring to the group's public statements expressing concern over Aung San Suu Kyi's detention.

"If Myanmar is expelled it will further isolate (the regime) and would that solve the problem?"

Myanmar -- Asean's problem child since it joined the bloc in 1997 -- recently sparked outrage by putting Aung San Suu Kyi on trial over an incident in which an American man, John Yettaw, swam to her lakeside house uninvited.

The ruling junta snubbed United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in early July by refusing to let him visit Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon's notorious Insein prison, deepening concerns in the international community.

US President Barack Obama has described the court proceedings as a "show trial". The democracy icon has spent 13 of the last 19 years in detention since the junta refused to recognise her National League for Democracy's landslide victory in elections in 1990.

Her internationally-condemned trial has been held largely behind closed doors and critics claim that the hearings are designed to keep Aung San Suu Kyi locked up ahead of elections scheduled for 2010.

Abhisit has rejected the imposing of sanctions on Myanmar, such as those enforced by the United States and European Union.

"We are still insisting on our policy of constructive engagement and hope that the US will understand," Abhisit added.

Clinton on Thursday urged Myanmar to ensure free and fair elections that would require the release of political prisoners, of whom there are more than 2,100 behind bars according to UN figures.

"We hope there is going to be a recognition on part of the Burmese leadership that they have more to gain by joining the international community and by effectively taking care of their people and putting Burma on the path to democracy," Clinton said, referring to Myanmar by its former name, Burma.

"(But) we don't see a change overnight," she added.

US officials earlier said they had held a rare meeting with a delegation from Myanmar late Wednesday that included talks on the treatment of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Clinton has also dangled a carrot to Myanmar's junta, saying on Wednesday that the release of Aung San Suu Kyi could pave the way for investments from the United States. Abhisit urged Myanmar to heed Clinton's call.

"I want Myanmar to take this opportunity to take some action to improve relations with the US," Abhisit said.

Abhisit's comments came on his return from the southern Thai resort island of Phuket where senior officials and ministers have held talks on Myanmar and the nuclearisation of North Korea on the sidelines of Asia's biggest security



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