Clinton prods ASEAN over Burma polls

Nov 12, 2009 (DVB), Southeast Asian countries have an important role to play in urging the Burmese junta to hold free and fair elections next year, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said yesterday.

The issue of the controversial 2010 elections was high on the agenda during talks between a senior-level United States' delegation and Burmese government ministers last week.

"We would like to see countries individually and through [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] reach out to the Burmese leadership, persuade them that it is time to start planning for free, fair and credible elections in 2010," Clinton said.

"Burma's neighbors and members of ASEAN have an especially important role to play in encouraging the Burmese government to move forward on reform, to start a meaningful internal dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi, political parties, and ethnic minorities."

Clinton was speaking at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference in Singapore, days prior to US president Barrack Obama's arrival in the region for the ASEAN-US summit.

Obama will be the first US president to meet with the 10 ASEAN members, which include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Burma. The Burmese prime minister Thein Sein will also be at the summit.

Clinton warned however that Washington, who had until recently maintained an isolationist policy on the regime, had only limited influence over the Burmese generals.

"We think this has to be resolved within the Burmese people themselves, so we are not setting or dictating any conditions," she said.

Obama is reportedly expected to make a personal plea to the Burmese generals to release Suu Kyi, who last month marked her fourteenth year in detention.

A senior US government official, James Bader, told reporters earlier this week that "he will probably mention her by name".

Her immediate future was clouded in uncertainty earlier this week however after the director general of Burma's foreign ministry told reporters in Manila that she could soon be released to play a role in the elections.

The comment was met with cautious optimism by fellow National League for Democracy (NLD) party members and exiled Burmese activists, who have grown used to such apparently conciliatory gestures from the junta in the past.

Even if Suu Kyi were to be released, a number of clauses in the 2008 constitution prohibit her from running for office in the next election.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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