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19 May 2009

Asean remains silent as Myanmar junta ignores global outrage

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London-based Amnesty International urged the Asean states to use their influence to secure the release of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, reported AFP.

Myanmar's military has ignored international outrage at what critics call trumped-up charges against Suu Kyi, accused of breaking the conditions of her house arrest, which had been due to expire on May 27 after six years of detention.

“Now more than ever, the (UN) Security Council and the Asean member-states must send an unequivocal signal to the generals that they can no longer act with impunity,” said the group’s Myanmar expert, Benjamin Zawacki.

“We really hope that they come out and ratchet up the pressure. Since Burma was admitted 12 years ago, Asean has squandered any opportunity to speak more openly about Burma,” David Mathieson of Human Rights Watch (HRW) told AFP, referring to the country by its former name.

The “trumped-up” charges prompted howls of protest from the West, but of Myanmar’s fellow Asean members only the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand have issued condemnations of the junta’s actions.

Mathieson said the fact that such key members of the bloc had spoken out strongly “impels the group to come up with something,” but added that it would still likely be a fairly toothless statement.

Despite talks among Asean envoys in Yangon (formerly Rangoon), the 10-member group has still not issued any official pronouncement on the matter since the charges were announced on Thursday.

Top officials from Asean and its six partners—China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand—are set to meet on Myanmar on the sidelines of a regular meeting in the Thai tourist island of Phuket on Tuesday (May 19,2009).

“It adds another layer of embarrassment,” Mathieson said, adding that the Myanmar issue had been a “central factor in spoiling relations within Asean for the last five years.”

Myanmar’s Southeast Asian neighbors have been largely mute over the trial of Suu Kyi, in a fresh display of the bloc’s failings as a diplomatic force, observers say.

Asean has long pursued a gentle approach towards promoting change in its most troublesome member, in contrast to the tough sanctions preferred by Western nations.

But it has little to show for its efforts since admitting Myanmar to the club in 1997, as the ruling generals have kept Suu Kyi under house arrest for years and brutally cracked down on protesters in 2007.

Human rights have been a perennial challenge for Asean in the 42 years since it was founded as a bulwark against the spread of communism, largely because of its oft-stated policy of non-interference in other nations’ internal affairs.

The latest debacle is especially embarrassing as it comes just months after the bloc adopted a new charter setting out benchmarks for democracy and human rights.

China, one of Myanmar’s closest allies and a major consumer of its vast natural resources, has also remained silent on the charges against Suu Kyi, as has India.

But, HRW’s Mathieson said, China had taken “a lot of flak” at the United Nations and elsewhere over Myanmar and would probably use some behind-the-scenes pressure.

“China has a lot of leverage over Burma, although its is not willing to use it overtly. Privately they will say to Burma, ‘Just resolve this and move on,’” he added.

Meanwhile, EU ministers considered on Monday whether to toughen sanction on Myanmar over its treatment of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but some said only Asian nations could influence the military government to change, reported Reuters.

The EU plans to discuss Myanmar with foreign ministers from Asia, including Myanmar, next week in Hanoi.






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