Burma Praised for Ceding Asean Leadership Role

Honorary CPP President Heng Sam­­rin on Wednesday welcomed the news that Burma has agreed to forgo its chairmanship of Asean next year, but said Cambodia would have supported the ruling jun­ta if they had gone ahead with their bid.

Asean announced Burma’s decision Tuesday, after the US and the European Union had demanded that Burma forfeit the scheduled chairmanship or move swiftly to­ward democracy and release pro-democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Associated Press on Tues­day quoted an unnamed Asean di­p­lomat as saying that at the Asean meetings this week in Vien­tiane, Cam­bodia, Laos and Viet­nam had pri­vately urged Burma to as­sume the chairmanship, in opposition to the other delegations.

“That [Burma] withdrew from the chairmanship is welcome…. It is a decision we would not op­pose,” Heng Samrin told re­port­ers out­side the National As­semb­ly.

“According to the rule of Asean, we still support [Burma] to be chair­­­man, but due to pressure from the outside, Burma withdrew. We also won’t interfere,” Heng Samrin said.

Vora Hul Kanthoul, Ministry of For­eign Affairs secretary of state, said Burma’s decision was prudent and will prevent damage being done to Asean’s international reputation.

“This decision was a success for the common interest for Asean as a block. We see it proved that the com­mon interest was placed above the individual one,” he ad­ded.

The decision was made by the ma­jority of Rangoon’s leaders after they came to appreciate the group interests of Asean, he said.

“This was a result of the Asean members’ quiet and mature diplomacy in handling the group’s problem,” he said, adding that Asean members engaged in “whispering” diplomacy, informally explaining to Burma the challenges faced by the whole bloc.

Ok Socheat, Cambodian ambassador to the Philippines, lauded Bur­ma for its decision.

“We praise Burma as a sportsman for forgoing the chairmanship of Asean next year, and letting the Philippines take its turn earlier,” he said from Manila by telephone.

The Philippines will fill the position instead of Burma, beginning in 2006. Malaysia will assume the chairmanship in upcoming weeks.

Ok Socheat called Burma’s move “a victory for Asean,” adding that the door is open for Burma to take the position whenever it re­stores democracy.

Burma’s decision “shows Asean is supportive of democratic leadership. It must be hope [in­spiring] for those in this region.”

Opposition lawmaker Son Ch­hay said Burma now needs to make political and economic re­form within its borders.

“This is welcome news al­though we see no major change for now,” he said. “This is a discipline Asean leaders need to follow.”

He said Asean demonstrated re­­sponsibility in its handling of the situation, but added that he be­lieved Burma was forced to make the decision.

Earlier this year, Son Chhay joined parliamentarians from Southeast Asian democracies at the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Caucus in Malaysia to urge the Ran­goon government to reform and release Aung San Suu Kyi.

Koul Panha, executive director of Comfrel, said Wednesday that the move shows that “dictatorship and military regimes are not ac­cepted in this world.”

A European diplomat in Phnom Penh said Burma made the right decision.

Speaking in Phnom Penh on Mon­day, Ian Pearson, British Foreign Office Minister for Trade, said it would be very difficult for Britain and other countries to deal with Asean if Burma was to hold the chair under the current circumstances.


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