ASEAN statement on Burma met with criticism

Nov 21, 2007 (DVB), About 50 Burmese activists staged a protest in Singapore yesterday against ASEAN, claiming that the regional body has neglected the needs of the Burmese people.

Protestors gathered in front of the Orchid tower where the ASEAN summit is currently being held.

Myo Myint Aung, one of the protesters, said he was disappointed with the 19 November statement from Singaporean prime minister Lee Hsien Loong on behalf of ASEAN leaders.

"We were hoping that ASEAN would pressure Burma to make constructive changes. But now we have seen their statement it shows they are refusing to take responsibility for that and it makes us very sad," Myo Myint Aung said.

"Our people have shown their true will by sacrificing a lot of their lives during the September protests, but ASEAN is still refusing to pay attention to them," he said.

The ASEAN statement reiterated calls for meaningful dialogue with detained opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party, as well as the release of all political prisoners.

It also urged the regime to address the economic difficulties facing the Burmese people and make moves towards a peaceful democratic transition.

However, the statement also accepted Burmese prime minister Thein Sein's wish that United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari should not brief ASEAN or the East Asia Summit.

It went on to say that ASEAN leaders did not want the situation in Burma to prevent regional integration or obstruct community relations.

The decision to deny Gambari the opportunity to brief the summit has been widely condemned.

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon told reporters in New York on 19 November that it would "be desirable and better for Mr Gambari to brief the East Asian Summit leaders on the situation on Myanmar".

Dr Thaung Htun, NCGUB representative to the United Nations, blamed the weakness of the statement on ASEAN's policy of requiring all members, including Burma, to agree on decisions.

He commended Gambari's patience in dealing with the situation in Burma, and called for continued international pressure.

"If the international community steadily continues their pressure on the Burmese junta for a certain amount of time, there will be a situation where the junta could not refused anymore from taking steps asked by the international community," Thaung Htun said.

Teresa Kok, secretary of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus, said that ASEAN leaders were not taking a strong enough stand on Burma, and needed to hear from Gambari to hear about his progress in the country.

"If [the junta] are sincere in bringing change, bringing reform and having dialogue with Suu Kyi and other ethnic leaders to resolve the stalemate in the country, they should be transparent and open enough to let Mr Gambari give a briefing of his work to the ASEAN leaders," she said.

She urged continued pressure on the Burmese regime from those outside and within the country.

"I believe that all the people in the ASEAN region and the neighbouring countries of Burma, we all have our roles to play," she said.

"I urge that the Burmese people should play their role within the country, should create awareness, to do whatever they can to help get democracy back to their country."

Despite not being able to brief the ASEAN summit, the special envoy was invited to Singapore by the Singaporean prime minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is the current chair of ASEAN.

Gambari is currently in Singapore and has held consultations with various heads of state and foreign minister from the region, including Burmese prime minister Thein Sein and foreign minister Nyan Win, a UN spokesperson said yesterday.

Gambari is due to return to Burma before the end of the year.

Reporting by Aye Naing and Aye Aye Mon

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