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October 23, 2007

ASEAN wants to keep Myanmar in
Singapore's foreign minister ruled out sanctions from Southeast Asian nations against Myanmar on Monday, and rejected suggestions that the military-ruled country should be asked to leave their regional group.

George Yeo, Singapore's foreign affairs minister, told parliament any talk of imposing sanctions on Myanmar, and expelling it from the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), would "make national reconciliation (in Myanmar) more difficult".

 ASEAN, Southeast Asia's main diplomatic and trade group,is one of the few international groups to admit Myanmar as a member.U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari asked Southeast Asian nations earlier this month for actions not words to push Myanmar towards democracy, following a monk-led revolt last month.

"The preference of all the ASEAN countries is to continue engaging Myanmar, and keeping it in the family. It is definitely Singapore's preference," Yeo said, adding that sanctions imposed on Myanmar by Western nations have failed because China and India have "kept the back, side gates" open.

U.S. President George Bush on Friday expanded sanctions against Myanmar's rulers, adding more military leaders to a list under existing sanctions that include a freeze on U.S. assets.

ASEAN, which operates on a consensual basis and usually avoids commenting on the internal affairs of member states, has been criticised for failing to bring Myanmar into the fold.

Singapore, the current chair of ASEAN, is due to host the ASEAN summit next month when the group is set to sign a landmark constitution.

"We fully expect Myanmar to be present and to sign the ASEAN charter, the legal scrubbing of which was happily completed at midnight last night," Yeo said.

In unusually blunt language last month, ASEAN voiced "revulsion" at the killings in Yangon and sternly demanded that Myanmar stop using violence against demonstrators.

Yeo said ASEAN's economic leverage over Myanmar "is not significant". He said Myanmar would turn into a buffer state between China and India if it was isolated by ASEAN -- a scenario that would hurt ASEAN's long-term interests.

"If we in ASEAN boycott Myanmar, we would lose our moral influence, which is not insignificant," Yeo said.

Yeo said he expects ASEAN officials to discuss the crackdown in Myanmar during the group's summit next month, and that starting this week, he would travel to China, Japan, and India to discuss how countries can "coordinate" their actions on Myanmar. Courtesy Asia News

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