Friday, May 15, 2009

Asian nations under fire for Suu Kyi inaction

Rights groups slam Asean countries for their silence after the Burmese military junta brings trumped up charges against Aung San Suu Kyi. Bangkok Post-AFP

Burma's Asian neighbours came under fire from rights groups on Friday for largely staying silent about the fresh charges levelled by the military junta against democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to use its influence with its most troublesome member, and said that China, Japan and India should also use their weight.

Asean ambassadors met in Rangoon on Friday to hammer out a statement on the group's perennial problem country, but the 10-member bloc has historically shied away from criticising the ruling generals.

Indonesia and Singapore were the only members to directly call for Aung San Suu Kyi's release and condemn the charges, which state that she breached the terms of her house arrest when a US man intruded on her lakeside house.

"The charges against her are not appropriate. Why should Aung San Suu Kyi be detained when it was the American national who swam across the waters to her house?'' Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said in Jakarta.

Singapore's foreign ministry said in a statement that it was "dismayed'' by the charges against the 63-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner and also called for her release.

In Bangkok, Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said only that his country "hope(s) that she should be released'', adding that Thailand was "very, very concerned'' about the possibility that Burma could extend her detention.

Aung San Suu Kyi faces a five-year jail term if found guilty at her trial, which will be held in Rangoon's notorious Insein prison, where she was taken on Thursday from her home.

She has spent 13 of the last 19 years in detention, most of them in virtual isolation at the sprawling lakeside property where she received the bizarre visit from US national John Yettaw last week that led to the charges.

Mr Kasit said Thailand's ambassador in Rangoon would meet with his Asean counterparts to discuss a statement by the bloc, which has a policy of non-interference in members' internal affairs.

Senior officials from Asean and its six dialogue partners -- China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand -- would also meet on the sidelines of a regular meeting in the tourist island of Phuket in Thailand on Tuesday, he said.

Japanese Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone voiced "deep concern'' over the new charges, local media reported. Japan is the top donor to Burma among the OECD's major economies.

But there was silence from the rest of the region. China, one of Burma's closest allies and a major consumer of its vast natural resources, remained silent on the charges against Aung San Suu Kyi, as did India.

London-based Amnesty International called on the UN Security Council, "notably China and Japan, and Asean countries, (to) urgently intervene to secure Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's release from Insein prison''.

"They are best placed to bring the necessary pressure to bear on the Burma government,'' it said in a statement.

Human Rights Watch, based in New York, made a similar appeal.

"China, India, Singapore, Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries should be calling for a genuine and participatory political process in Burma, which means serious public pressure for the release of political opponents,'' said Elaine Pearson, the group's deputy Asia director.

"Aung San Suu Kyi's latest arrest shows how their silence simply encourages more contempt for basic freedoms,'' she said in a statement.

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