Thursday, May 28, 2009

Burma presence concerns ASEAN head

(DVB)–Pressure on Burma’s generals is now mounting from all angles, with the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations expressing concern yesterday of the effect that Burma is having on the bloc’s image.

The ASEAN bloc has, until recently, been reluctant to condemn the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi, keen to maintain its policy of non-interference in domestic matters of member countries.

Thailand, who holds the current chair of ASEAN, first broke the silence last week when it expressed “grave concern” about the trial and suggested it may damage the “honour and credibility” of Burma.

Yesterday, however, ASEAN admitted its concerns about Burma’s spiraling international reputation, suggesting that what was first deemed a domestic issue for Burma had now begun to tarnish neighbouring countries.

Speaking on the sidelines of talks between ASEAN and European Union leaders in Hanoi, Thailand’s ASEAN chair, Surin Pitsuwan, warned of damage to the bloc’s credibility, with Burma an ever more controversial member.

"The discussion in the room back there was that [Suu Kyi’s trial]... affects ASEAN's image and ASEAN's collective interests," he told reporters.

On Sunday, Burma lashed out at the earlier ASEAN statement, accusing Thailand of “interfering in the internal affairs” of the country.

It was a rare rebuke for Thailand, who maintains close ties to Burma’s ruling junta and has repeatedly shunned pressure to implement sanctions on Burma, stating that it would not go beyond rhetorical condemnation of the regime.

Yet Thai MP, Kraisak Choonhavan, who also heads the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus, said on Monday that the situation had reached a point whereby Burma warranted “international or forced intervention”.

“It would be very difficult to arrive at that, but now there is a movement of those who want to protect the people of Burma by bringing the International Criminal Court (ICC) into play,” he said.

“If they [ICC] are in their right mind and they go through the facts, there is no denying that [junta leader] Than Shwe and his cronies should be persecuted at the ICC.”

Reporting by Francis Wade and AFP

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