Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Asean Tiptoes toward Statement on Suu Kyi Trial

The Irrawaddy News

Further action is expected from the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) against the Burmese regime over the trial of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Burma observers and regional activists believe that Asean is not doing enough in rebuking the Burmese junta, while the Western world has taken a strong stance and has been very vocal in its criticism of the Burmese junta’s appalling human rights record and its recent move to convict the Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

On Tuesday, Asean released a short statement saying that Thailand, in its capacity as the current Asean Chairman “shall continue to pursue constructive dialogue with the Government of the Union of Myanmar [Burma].”

Beyond that, the statement offered no condemnation or criticism of the Burmese military regime nor mentioned the trial of democracy icon Suu Kyi, which is widely seen as a farce.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy after the Asean statement was released, Debbie Stothard, the coordinator of the Alternative Asean Network (Altsean), said, “We hope [Asean Secretary-General] Dr Pitsuwan will be working more actively to generate political will among Asean leaders; for Asean to be a genuine vehicle of change. And it should start with Burma.”

Roshan Jason, the executive director of a regional rights group known as the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC), said that it is necessary that the nine Asean leaders—excluding Burma—come out together with a collective agreement to address what is happening with Suu Kyi.

Jason said that an emergency meeting regarding Suu Kyi’s case among Asean leaders—facilitated by Surin Pitsuwan—is also needed, adding that Asean leaders should not only release “statements of concern,” but also take action.

AIPMC released a statement on Tuesday urging Asean to suspend Burma’s membership in the regional bloc if the Burmese regime continues to detain the pro-democracy leader.

The statement said although several Asean states had expressed their deep concern over the detention of Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, Asean leaders have failed to take the measures necessary to force the junta to end human rights abuses.

The statement urged Asean to assume its responsibility by supporting, if not calling for, decisive measures—for instance, an international commission of inquiry into the widely documented crimes against humanity allegedly committed by the junta.

“Change cannot be achieved in Burma if Asean’s current positions and policies remain. Asean cannot afford patience any longer,” said the statement.

On Tuesday, Lim Kit Siang, the parliamentary leader of the Democratic Action Party in Malaysia, said: “I will call on Surin Pitsuwan to take a stronger stand. He will of course have to consult actively with [Asean] and use his experience to persuade Asean leaders to take a stronger stand in keeping with the regional and international expectations.”

Meanwhile, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said at an Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem) in Hanoi that the release of Suu Kyi and all political prisoners in Burma was significant for national reconciliation and a general election in 2010.

The EU used the Asem in Hanoi to call for the "immediate release" of Suu Kyi. The message was conveyed to Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win on the sidelines of the meeting, Czech Foreign Minister and EU senior official Jan Kohout said.

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