Asean Calls On Burma to Release Suu Kyi

Asean foreign ministers called on Burma’s military rulers Mon­day to release opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a plea that marks the regional body’s first- ever involvement in the domestic affairs of a member state.

The call for Suu Kyi’s freedom was made by nine foreign ministers from the 10 Asean member countries, said Asean Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong, according to The Asso­ciated Press.

“All I can say is we had a good exchange of views on [Burma] and [the ministers] conveyed the request…to the [Burmese] government that they would like to see an easing of tensions and early release of Aung San Suu Kyi,” Ong Keng Yong said.

International media attention at this year’s Asean meetings is focused on Asean’s approach to the political situation in Burma.

The decision to address Burma over the treatment of Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, is unique in Asean’s 36-year history and marks a wide departure from its time-honored policy of non-interference in its members’ internal affairs.

Rangoon’s treatment of the opposition leader has irritated some countries in the association, particularly the Philippines, which was reportedly dismayed that the reputation of the regional grouping as a whole was being tarnished by the Burmese junta’s actions.

“We in Asean are now sharing in accountability to the world about the slow progress of the transition to democracy in [Burma],” said Philippine Foreign Secretary Blas Ople, according to AP.

Suu Kyi has not been seen in public since she was detained on May 30 after bloody confrontations between her supporters and pro-government elements in northern Burma.

Burma’s Foreign Minister Win Aung told reporters Sunday that the opposition leader was being kept in custody for her own safety because of possible assassination attempts.

Speaking after a press briefing on Monday, Asean Secretary General Spokesman M C Abad Jr declined to comment on whether Asean’s image has been damaged internationally by Rangoon.

Asean’s call for the release of Suu Kyi will likely be mentioned in a Asean joint communique to be released today.

However, what appeared to be a draft copy of the communique, which was available at the Asean press center on Monday, welcomed Rangoon’s efforts to promote “peace and democracy.”

“We also noted [Burma’s] endeavors for national reconciliation and the transition to democracy,” said the communique, which also added Asean’s support for the work of the UN’s envoy to Burma.

The draft communique also noted Asean’s support for the Indonesian army’s offensive in the restive province of Aceh, renewed pledges to combat terrorism and the concerns posed by the issue of North Korea’s nuclear weapons.

Asean’s surprise stance toward Burma coincided with the release on Monday of an Indonesian document proposing the formation of an Asean Security Community to promote more integrated political and security cooperation among members.

Indonesia is about to take over the rotating Asean chair and the Asean Security Community envisages an Asean that, according to the document, would “be more willing to address issues that are normally very sensitive too, including those issues which have been placed “under the carpet.”

Though reiterating Asean’s principle of non-interference and consensus-based decision making, the proposed Security Community would need to see some of Asean’s founding principles “updated.”

“Those principles need to be updated to consider current realities so that Asean would be able to more effectively meet new challenges and requirements,” the Indonesian paper states.

Speaking at a press briefing at the Asean media center on Monday, Undersecretary of State Sieng Lapresse denied the Indonesian proposal marked a sea change in Asean policies on non-interference.

“We continue to do the same thing again and again,” Sieng Lapresse told reporters.

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