Monday, May 25, 2009

Burma Rejects Asean Statement on Suu Kyi’s Trial


Burma has "strongly rejected" a statement by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) condemning the trial of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

According to Burma’s state-run media, the Burmese military government said the Asean statement issued last week—which the EU on Monday praised as "remarkable"—was factually wrong and "deviated from the practice of Asean."

The statement was issued on behalf of Asean by the organization’s chairman, Thailand’s foreign minister. "This statement issued by the alternate Asean chairman—which is not in conformity with Asean practice, incorrect in facts, interfering in the internal affairs of Myanmar [Burma]—is strongly rejected by Myanmar," the Burmese government said.

"It is sadly noted that the alternate Asean chairman failed to preserve the dignity of Asean, the dignity of Myanmar and the dignity of Thailand," said the regime statement, which was also carried by state-run newspapers, television and radio.

Under pressure from the US and the EU, Thailand, the current chairman of the 10-member Asean, issued a statement saying that with the eyes of the international community on Burma at present, the "honor and the credibility" of the Burmese regime were "at stake."

The statement added that Asean reaffirmed the regional grouping's readiness to contribute constructively to the national reconciliation process and the peaceful transition of democracy in Burma, while calling for the immediate release of Suu Kyi.

"Asean has been trying small steps to move forward on Burma," Debbie Stothard, coordinator for the regional advocacy group Altsean-Burma. "Asean needs to be bolder to overcome the bullying tactics of the Burmese military government.

"Burmese military leaders have been the main reason millions of asylum-seekers and migrants have fled Burma and created conditions that support transnational crime," she said. "They have created the most serious humanitarian crisis in the region and are waging the world's longest war. Burma's defensive reaction to the Asean statement should be a good sign that Asean is now on the right track."

Meanwhile, EU representatives at a meeting in Hanoi called on the Burmese regime to free Suu Kyi. They made the call at the start of a two-day meeting in the Vietnamese capital of representatives of 45 nations from Asia and Europe.

The Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem) in Hanoi had been called to discuss ways of tackling the global economic slowdown and boosting economic cooperation.

But it is expected to be overshadowed both by the Suu Kyi trial and Monday's surprise nuclear weapon test by North Korea.

The Asem meeting is being attended by foreign ministers or their deputies from the European Union, the 10-nation Asean, China, South Korea, Japan, Mongolia, Pakistan and India.

Speaking in Paris ahead of the Asem meeting, Rama Yade, the French human rights minister, told TV5 Monde in an interview that it is now up to Asian governments to turn up the pressure on Burma.

"It is obvious that the key is in Asia," Yade said. The French minister described Suu Kyi’s arrest as a "pretext to throw her in prison and stage a mock trial."

Yade warned: "If we were to lose her, it would be on our conscience,"

However, an EU-China meeting in Brussels last week failed to agree on new measures to pressure the Burmese regime to restore democracy.

While Thailand—despite issuing its strong statement—had said Asean would not change its position of engagement with Burma, China has flatly refused to get involved. China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao called on the EU "to ensure that our bilateral relationship will not be adversely affected by individual incidents."

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