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Ministerial Meeting
July 31, 2007

Myanmar told to free Suu Kyi
Southeast Asian foreign ministers called on Myanmar yesterday to restore democracy and overcame objections from the military-ruled nation on setting up a regional human rights body, Associated Press reported.

A joint communique issued at the end of a one-day meeting of ministers from the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations also demanded that Myanmar release political detainees, including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

However, in a nod to the sensitivities of Myanmar's military junta, the document did not name Suu Kyi, but referred to her as the leader of the National League for Democracy.

"We urged Myanmar to show tangible progress that would lead to a peaceful transition to democracy in the near future," the communique said.

"While recognizing the steps taken by the Myanmar government to release the leader of the NLD, we continue to express concern on the detention of all political detainees and reiterate our calls for their early release."

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar told Reuters the ministers were forthright in demanding Suu Kyi's release during the closed-door meeting.

"I think we have made very strong comments that we wanted to see something that can be believed, that is acceptable to the ASEAN community," he said. He said Myanmar did not stipulate at the meeting when Suu Kyi could be freed.

An estimated 1,100 political prisoners are believed to be behind bars in the former Burma. Suu Kyi, 62, has been confined for more than 11 of the past 17 years. Her latest detention began in 2003.

Myanmar has been called ASEAN's black sheep and the furor over its dismal human rights record has threatened to divert attention from the group's efforts at economic integration.

ASEAN is writing a landmark charter to become a more rules-based organization, and setting up a human rights body is a part of the document.

Ministers said they overcame opposition from four nations led by Myanmar on the rights body.

"At the ministers' level we have a consensus," Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo told reporters. "Myanmar had a positive attitude towards all of this."

The Singaporean foreign minister said the ministers had yet to decide on terms of reference and other specifics, but would do so soon. AP

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