Friday, February 27, 2009

Asean Will Not React to Pressure: Thai FM

The Irrawaddy News

CHA-AM — The chairman of the Association of South Asian Nations (Asean) said on Thursday that issues such as human rights in Burma and the Rohingya crisis would be discussed at the 14th Asean Summit, but not in reaction to pressure.

As the current chair of Asean, Thailand is hosting the three-day summit at Cha-am in Petchaburi Province. The 14th Asean Summit was originally due to be held in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, in December, but was postponed due to political unrest in the kingdom.

Responding to questions at a press conference on the eve of the summit, current Asean chairman, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, said, “Anything of concern, we can talk about with one another without making demands.”

He said that delegates will also talk about human rights issues in the region at informal meetings.

On the Rohingya boat people issue, he said Thailand will handle the matter through the Bali process. He added that he would talk with his Burmese counterparts about the matter at informal meetings during the summit.

Initiated in 2002 and co-chaired by the governments of Australia and Indonesia, the Bali Process brings together more than 50 countries and numerous international agencies to help combat people smuggling, human trafficking and related transnational crimes in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.

Asean foreign ministers held an “informal working dinner” on Thursday evening ahead of Friday’s foreign ministers meetings, which will specifically concentrate on an Asean human rights body and the Asean Charter.

Burma is expected to be the main focus of any discussions on human rights. The military-ruled country has some 2,100 political prisoners in its jails, including pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest.

In the past, the United States and the European Union have criticized Asean for neglecting to react to human rights violations in Burma.

Aside from the Rohingya boat people issue, Asean leaders are due to talk with Burmese delegates on an extension to the Tripartite Core Group (TCG)—comprising Asean, the United Nations and the Burmese regime—which acts in response to last year’s Cyclone Nargis disaster in southwestern Burma.

An emergency meeting of Asean foreign ministers in Singapore in May 2008 agreed on the forming of the TCG.

However, the TCG agreement expires in July. According to the UN, both the UN and Asean are prepared to continue humanitarian and rebuilding projects in Burma, but the Burmese regime has not officially approved an extension of the TCG.

A Thai official at the summit, who spoke to The Irrawaddy on condition of anonymity, said, “We are waiting for an answer from Myanmar [Burma] about the TCG, but there are some hardline ministers.”

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