Saturday, February 28, 2009

Activists raise Burma issues with ASEAN leaders

by Salai Pi Pi

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Activists representing civil society organizations in Southeast Asian countries raised the Burma issue including freedom for Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in the forum of ASEAN leaders on Saturday.

Malaysian woman activist Wathshlah, who also participated in the meeting, said that civil society organizations' representatives held talks with ASEAN leaders including Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein on Burma's affairs such as Suu Kyi, Burmese refugees including Rohingya boat people and the ensuing 2010 election.

"During the meeting, we raised the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burmese refugees and Rohingya people and the 2010 election," Wathshlah from Malaysia based International Women Rights Action Watch Asia-pacific told Mizzima.

The 20-minute interface between ASEAN Leaders and civil society organizations took place at the Dusit Thani Hotel in Hua Hin in Thailand shortly before the start of the on going ASEAN summit from February 27 to March 1.

Though Thein Sein did not reply to questions on Burma, Wathshlah said, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva agreed on the need to start a dialogue on Burma but ruled out interference in the internal affairs of the country.

"He [Abhisit] recognized the need to engage in dialogue, however he said that it is important to preserve the principle of state, sovereignty and non-interference," Wathshlah said.

However, Wathshlah added, "He promised that all ASEAN members will engage in the issue to start a dialogue on Burma"

The 10-nation members of ASEAN in December ratified a charter, which pledged to protect human rights and promote democracy in the region.

However, the charter maintains ASEAN’s tradition of non-interference in member states, and does not have provisions for the punishment of states if they flout it.

Wathshlah said, the representatives of civil society organizations also discussed with ASEAN leaders about people participating in a regional grouping, human right bodies, promoting and protection of the rights of migrant workers in the region and gender issues.

Abhisit told the activists that the human rights body will be set up according to the principle of Asean Charter to ensure the protection of human rights and the people’s participation in the body, Wathshlah said.

"He said that human rights body is to be in line with the Asean Charter. He will try as much as possible to ensure the protection of human rights", Wathshlah said and added, "He encouraged people’s participation".

Earlier, the Thai government arranged for 10 persons representing civil society organizations including the exiled Burmese women activist Khin Ohmar to participate and hold a dialogue with ASEAN leaders on Saturday.

However, Burma and Cambodia objected to the participation of Khin Ohmar and Cambodian volunteer activist Pen Somony at the meeting, saying they will boycott the meeting if civil society organizations, which were not affiliated with them, were involved.

Khin Ohmar, the chair of the Network for Democracy and Development (Burma) in exile said that Burmese regime's delegates to the 14th ASEAN summit objected to her participating in the 30-minute talk between ASEAN leaders and civil society organizations.

"Without giving any reason, they [Burmese representatives] rejected my involvement in the meeting," Khin Ohmar told Mizzima. (JEG's: do they ever give reasons?)

However, on Thursday, Khin Ohmar could meet Abhisit for 10 minutes.

Khin Ohmar said Abhisit told her to raise Burma's human rights and political reform issues at the ongoing regional summit.

"He said that he will raise the matters related to human rights, national reconciliation and 2010 election in Burma," Khin Ohmar said.

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