Saturday, May 16, 2009

Three Asean members oppose Suu Kyi charges

Bangkok Post

Three Asean members - Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia - have raised concerns about Burma's move to lodge new charges against detained Aung San Suu Kyi, and called for her release.

Burma, itself a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, has lodged fresh charges against the Burmese democracy icon, stemming from an incident in which an American swam across a lake to stay at her house.

The move by the three countries is seen as unusual. By convention, Asean members do not intervene in each other's internal affairs.

Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said yesterday all countries were concerned about the credibility of any Burmese probe into the US man's action.

"What we would like to know is what the truth is, what the intent of that US man is, how could he pass the security guards surrounding Mrs Suu Kyi's house, who is behind this and is there some sort of conspiracy?" Mr Kasit said.

"I don't know. But I think the facts should be told to the public."

Mrs Suu Kyi and her two maids will go before the court on Monday.

Mr Kasit hoped the process would be transparent and Mrs Suu Kyi's period for detention would not be extended further.

"We would like to see Mrs Suu Kyi and political prisoners released, as reflected in the Asean chairman's statement at the 14th Asean summit in Cha-am last March," he said.

Mrs Suu Kyi is facing five years in jail on charges of breaching the terms of her house arrest after a bizarre incident in which a US man swam to her off-limits lakeside house in Rangoon.

The incident came just a few days before the expiry of her most recent six-year detention order om May 27.

She faces a new trial on Monday, and the jail term if convicted of the new charges would keep her behind bars past an election due next year.

The elections are part of a so-called "roadmap" to restore democracy that the country's ruling junta has pledged to adopt.

International critics have said the process will be a sham if she and her party are excluded.

Thailand is rotating chairman of Asean.

Mr Kasit said Thai ambassador to Rangoon Bansarn Bunnag has been assigned to consult other Asean ambassadors based in Burma about the Asean position.

The US embassy in Bangkok has also contacted the Thai government and told it that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would call the Asean secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan or Mr Kasit about the situation.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Friday expressed concern about the health of Mrs Suu Kyi and the country's long-delayed "roadmap" to democracy.

Mr Abhisit said the 10-nation bloc had been urging Burma to adopt an inclusive political process.

"Clearly her health condition is of concern, and that should be a concern for everybody," he said at the Foreign Correspondents' Club in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, Singapore said yesterday it was dismayed after Burma lodged new charges against Mrs Suu Kyi.

"We reiterate the call for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from detention. We are also concerned about recent reports on her poor health," said the Singapore foreign ministry.

Indonesia also urged Burma to release Mrs Suu Kyi and drop the new "arbitrary" charges against her.

"The Indonesian government is very concerned about the arbitrary detention of Aung San Suu Kyi and we are hoping for a legal process so we know the basis for her detention," foreign ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said."The charges against her are not appropriate."


Rights groups slam Asean countries for their silence after the Burmese military junta brings trumped up charges against an ailing Aung San Suu Kyi, shown some years ago in this portrait on a protester's placard.

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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