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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs        10  May 2011

Asean open to Myanmar leadership, BUT

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Indonesia, as the current chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, says Burma still needs to prove its move toward democracy is sincere if it wants to lead the bloc in 2014.

In his closing remarks at the 18th Asean Summit in Jakarta, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the regional grouping’s leaders “in principle” did not object to Myanmar becoming chair.

He said Laos, which was set to assume the rotating leadership of the 10-member bloc in 2014 based on the alphabetical order of member countries, had proposed it swap with Burma so it could concentrate on ongoing domestic issues.

“Based on Laos’s request, Myanmar [Burma] has been asked to take the chairmanship in 2014 and Laos will assume it in 2016,” he said. “In principle, Asean’s leaders do not object to the proposal.”

However, Yudhoyono said Myanmar was expected to show progress in its move toward democracy so it would not cast the bloc in a negative light.

Myanmar’s chairmanship will be discussed again at the next regional summit in November.

“We hope that Myanmar will continue with the process since it has caught the world’s attention,” the president added.

The 2014 chairmanship will come at a critical time for Asean since it will be the last year before the planned single regional community is realized in 2015.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa said on Thursday that Burma’s readiness to assume the chairmanship “extends beyond practical readiness” and that Indonesian officials would visit Burma to review developments in its new government and the process of becoming a more democratic country.

Burma’s military junta held general elections in November in an effort to transition to civilian rule, leading Asean members to push the United States and Europe to drop sanctions against it.

But many observers dismissed the elections as a sham and said the generals would still be pulling the strings behind the scenes. The country’s parliament is still dominated by the military and its political proxies.

Any decision to allow Myanmar to chair Asean could provoke strong protests from Western governments and human rights groups, and could complicate efforts by Asean to work more closely with the United States and the European Union.

Human Rights Watch sharply criticized Asean’s readiness to allow Myanmar to head the grouping in 2014. “This is unfortunately a decision of political convenience over political principle, and indicates once again that human rightsis not a priority for Asean,” said Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director.

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