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Formidable task awaits UN envoy, says Asean sec-gen
October 16, 2007

Formidable task awaits UN envoy, says Asean sec-gen

The United Nations Special Envoy to Myanmar, Dr Ibrahim Gambari, has the formidable task of forging a consensus on how the international community should deal with the Myanmar government, said ASEAN's Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong on Monday.

Mr Ong said Dr Gambari must also convince Myanmar's leadership that it is time to make substantive moves to bring about a new situation in the country.

The ASEAN secretary-general was speaking to the media on the sidelines of the ASEAN-US Symposium, jointly organised by the Institute of Policy Studies, the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies and the Centre for a New American Security.

The world is watching the diplomatic moves of Dr Gambari as he embarks on his latest Asian tour to bring about a solution to the situation in Myanmar.

And diplomats here at the ASEAN-US symposium are looking forward to ASEAN's efforts to resolve the situation in one of its member countries.

US Ambassador to Singapore, Patricia Herbold, said: "Some of the region's leading figures have even weighed in to re-examine such hallowed principles such as constructive engagement and non-interference in a member's affairs. All of this I think has the potential to strengthen ASEAN over time."

And over time, what happened in Myanmar will affect the rest of the region, said Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who opened the symposium.

He said: "We have to bear in mind that Myanmar is a buffer state between China and India, so if Myanmar dissolves into civil war, both of Myanmar's neighbours will be dragged in. It is therefore in everyone's interest that Myanmar remains a part of ASEAN and it would be counter-productive to push Myanmar towards further isolation."

ASEAN's secretary-general stressed that it is important for the international community to speak with one voice and to ensure that the recent bloody situation in Myanmar does not recur.

"The Myanmar government does not believe there is anything wrong with their own country. So if this state of denial persists, I don't think we are going to be able to yield any good step forward," Mr Ong said.

As to how Myanmar may affect the upcoming ASEAN Summit in Singapore, he said: "It will of course dampen the enthusiasm and the positive vibes that we have.

"People all around the world and the region are so optimistic about the prospects in this area. Yet when people look at the reports from Myanmar, there is a rather sobering effect.

"How we can transform negative vibes into something better will depend on Dr Gambari's diplomacy and the readiness of the Myanmar government to contribute to the dynamism and positive views about the region."

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