ASEAN in talks over Suu Kyi's release

Aug 19, 2009 (DVB), Members of the Southeast Asian regional bloc are meeting in Indonesia today to debate whether to call on Burma to release imprisoned opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Burma has become the thorn in the side of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and its presence in the bloc has been increasingly controversial since the trial and detention of Suu Kyi.

The leader of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party was last Monday sentenced to a further 18 months under house arrest following what many world leaders have labeled a "sham trial" that was politically motivated.

ASEAN, which generally follows a principle of non-interference in internal affairs of member states, has become increasingly uneasy over Burma's membership.

Soon after the start of the trial, Thailand, which currently holds the ASEAN chair, voiced concern that Burma was tarnishing the bloc's image.

Senior ASEAN officials are meeting this evening in Jakarta for talks which could run through to Friday, according to Reuters.

They will discuss whether to send a letter to the ruling generals in Burma to pressure for the release of Suu Kyi.

"They will seek to ask Myanmar to give amnesty but that’s in principle only. I don’t know exactly how it will be reflected in the letter," Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said.

"I suspect it will be Suu Kyi. I don’t know if it will touch on all political prisoners."

Following UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's visit to Burma in July, the junta's UN ambassador told the Security Council that Burma was "in the process" of granting amnesty to prisoners, although there has so far been no sign of this taking place.

The length of Suu Kyi's sentence will mean she remains in detention beyond the 2010 elections, scheduled for March next year.

Last week a visit to Burma by United States senator Jim Webb secured the release of US citizen John Yettaw, who was sentenced to seven years hard labour for visiting Suu Kyi's compound in May.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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