Burma Issue Shaking Up Asean Policy

Asean leaders will have to find a way to bring democratic change to Burma’s military junta by 2006 or face the prospect of having their regional organization chaired by a pariah state, Nobel Prize-winning Jose Ramos-Horta said on the sidelines of Tuesday’s ministerial meetings.

Asean has a strict policy of non-interference in the political affairs of its member nations, but that policy has been stretched here during meetings between the association’s foreign ministers following the recent violent events in Burma that led to the detainment of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other party members.

Burmese Foreign Minister Win Aung said Suu Kyi is in detention to protect her from a possible assassination attempt, The Associated Press reported Tuesday, quoting another Asean minister.

Ramos-Horta, a key figure in the independence movement of East Timor, and now its foreign minister, said that, among Asean’s foreign ministers, “no one” believes she was being held for her own protection. Instead, he said, the ministers have been “deeply frustrated” by the “unbelievable reverse of situation” in Burma.

“They all are demanding her release,” he said. “If they thought she was there for own good, they wouldn’t ask for her release.”

The question of Suu Kyi’s treatment has prodded within Asean a need to broach internal political subjects. The rapid deterioration of any democratic principles inside Burma is “already very embarrassing” for Asean, he said, but to have Asean chaired by such a regime “will surely be embarrassing for everyone concerned.

“No later than 2006, [Burma] must get out of its pariah status,” he said.

Asean ministers broached the Suu Kyi subject with Win Aung Monday night.

“We have reached a certain level of confidence and openness, without having departed from the principle of non-interference of internal affairs,” Cambodian For­eign Minister Hor Namhong said Tuesday. “We discussed the current developments” in Burma, “but we do not go into the internal affairs of member states.”

Japan’s press secretary for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hatsuhisa Takashima, on Tues­day called Asean’s move to push Burma toward releasing Suu Kyi a “proactive approach.”

“Asean took a very bold measure to deal with the internal situation of a member country,” Taka­shima said prior to a bilateral meeting between Japan and Burma.

“We have made it very clear that if the situation continues as such…we have to review our policy” of assistance to Burma, Takashima said. “We can think of various ways and means to deal with the situation.”

Japan’s foreign minister, Yoriko Kawaguchi, said in a separate speech Tuesday that her government also urged Burma to release Suu Kyi.

“I would like to call on the [Burmese] government to rectify the current situations and initiate its genuine efforts toward national reconciliation and democracy, and to take steps in becoming a re­sponsible and respected member of the international community.”

Singaporean Foreign Minister S Jayakumar told reporters Monday that the recent events in Burma were “a setback not only for Myanmar, but the Myanmar foreign minister was also told that it was a setback for Asean.”

Late Tuesday, Philippine For­eign Secretary Blas Ople said a ministerial mission to Burma had been proposed by his Indo­nesian counterpart, Hassan Wirayuda, and was being considered by Asean, the AP reported Tuesday.

The delegation will “determine how Asean can help [Burma] speed up its constitutional re­forms, which is the key to its future political and economic stability,” Ople said.

Ople said he and the other ministers backed the Indonesian idea, adding that the Philippines would like to join such a delegation.

If Burma approves the visit, the delegation would have to be allowed to meet Suu Kyi and mem­bers of her opposition National League for Democracy party in addition to government leaders, he said.

Win Aung told his Asean counterparts during Monday’s meeting that Suu Kyi would be released as soon as Burma’s police authorities finish an investigation into the clash, arrest suspects and file charges, Ople said.

“How soon that is, nobody knows,” the AP quoted Ople as saying.

Asked if he believed Win Aung’s explanation about Suu Kyi facing an assassination threat, Ople replied: “He was passionate. I don’t know if he was factual.”

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