US trying to 'put ASEAN in its pocket'

July 27, 2009 (DVB), State-run media in Burma has accused US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of interfering in the affairs of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations after suggesting the bloc should expel Burma.

At the 27-state ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) last week, Clinton suggested that Burma should be expelled from the grouping if it failed to release imprisoned opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Yesterday the government mouthpiece New Light of Myanmar newspaper criticised Clinton's comments, which allegedly amounted to the United States "trying to sound the ASEAN out and put it in its pocket".

The US has long been the fiercest critic of Burma, and on Friday renewed its package of sanctions on the regime which include a ban on the import of Burmese goods to the US.

Clinton said however that there was potential for the US to engage with and invest in Burma if the junta released Suu Kyi and allowed her to compete in the 2010 elections.

The US has also expressed concern about the potential for North Korea and Burma to trade in information and material for nuclear proliferation, stemming largely from an incident in June in which a suspicious North Korean ship being tracked by the US navy appeared to be heading towards Burma, before turning around.

Speaking on the sidelines of the ARF, Burmese foreign minister Nyan Win reportedly told Clinton that it would abide by a UN resolution that requires member states to search suspicious North Korean cargo.

However, nothing more has been said on the issue, and the New Light of Myanmar article alleged that "it was not very strange for the US to try to influence ASEAN" given the history of US meddling in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"[The US] is also trying to cause disunity in the region and trouble among the regional nations," it said, adding that US military bases in Asia posed "a threat to the region".

It also warned that if ASEAN abides by US suggestions for change in Burma, "it will come under control of the US".

Clinton last week also called for the release of Suu Kyi, who is in court today on the final day of her three-month trial.

Her comments were echoed in a joint communiqué released following the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting last week which said that Suu Kyi's release was a necessary prerequisite for "free, fair and inclusive" elections next year.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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