US envoy to ASEAN vows to push for reforms in Burma

Apr 10, 2008 (AFP), The prospective first US envoy to the ASEAN said on Wednesday that his key priority was prodding the Southeast Asian group to press Burma’s military junta to embrace democratic reforms.

Scot Marciel, ambassador designate for ASEAN affairs, said at his confirmation hearing in the Senate that he planned to "travel extensively throughout the region" to improve ties.

"One of my highest priorities, if confirmed, will be to work with ASEAN and its member nations … to convince Burma’s rulers to end their brutal repression and begin a genuine dialogue leading to a democratic transition," he said.

Burma faces mounting pressure for democratic reform after its crackdown on peaceful protests led by Buddhist monks last September triggered widespread international outrage and tighter Western sanctions.

The United Nations says at least 31 people were killed during the suppression, and 74 remain missing.

"The problem of Burma represents one of ASEAN’s biggest challenges, but also an opportunity," said Marciel, who will continue to hold his current post as deputy assistant secretary of state on confirmation as US envoy to ASEAN.

He said that if the United States and ASEAN as well as others in the international community reversed Burma’s "dangerous downward spiral," it would be of "enormous benefit" to the people in that country and the entire region.

ASEAN comprises Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Marciel said that his new position was created in recognition of the growing importance of ASEAN as an institution and belief that the United States should increase its engagement and cooperation with the region.

ASEAN nations have a combined population of nearly 600 million, and together constitute the fourth largest export market for the United States.

ASEAN members include two US treaty allies — the Philippines and Thailand — and the world’s third-largest democracy and the most populous Muslim nation, Indonesia.

Marciel also urged ASEAN to provide the necessary clout to a human rights mechanism it had decided to set up as part of its charter.

"As the structure and functions of that body take shape, we will urge ASEAN to give it the means to promote and protect fundamental human rights throughout the region," he said.

Marciel said nearly half of his two decade stint in the foreign service had been devoted to working in or on the ASEAN region, including assignments in the Philippines and Vietnam.

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