Monday, June 1, 2009

Burma Locked Out of Region’s Prosperity, Says Gates

The Irrawaddy News

Burma is “one of the isolated, desolate exceptions to the growing prosperity and freedom of the region,” according to US Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Gates made his comment at a security conference in Singapore, where Burma’s deputy defense minister, Maj-Gen Aye Myint, tried to deflect criticism of his government and its latest action against opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Burma’s state-run-newspaper The New Light of Myanmar reported on Monday that Aye Myint told the conference that Suu Kyi’s trial in Rangoon was an internal Burmese affair.

“Thus, if any country interferes in the internal affairs of another country, that particular act may possibly affect the mutual understanding and friendly relation between countries,” he said.

Gates, however, repeated calls for Suu Kyi’s release. He said, “We need to see real change in Burma—the release of political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and the institution of meaningful dialogue between the junta and the opposition.”

Gates said, “We saw Burma's resistance to accept basic humanitarian aid last year following the cyclone, a decision indicative of that country's approach to the rest of the world.”

The Singapore conference, the 8th Shangri-La Dialogue, organized by the city-state’s International Institute for Strategic Studies, brought together defense ministers or their deputies from 27 countries. The situation in Burma and the trial of Suu Kyi were raised by several participants, despite Aye Myint’s objections.

Burma is facing mounting international pressure, also from within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

At an Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) of foreign ministers in Phnom Penh last week, Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win opposed any consideration of the Burma issue, complaining that the gathering “has overlooked the important issue of non-interference.”

Nyan Win declared, “This is an internal legal issue and it is not a human rights issue.”

Despite Nyan Win’s objections, ministers from the European Union and Asean discussed Suu Kyi’s trial and called on the Burmese government to free her and other political prisoners.

Burma’s traditional allies, China and India, are also reportedly concerned about the impact of Suu Kyi’s trial.

The trial is also expected to be an issue at an Asean meeting in South Korea next week.

“Asean leaders will meet and discuss an issue that has received international attention —about a neighboring country—for further cooperation,” said Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, whose country is currently chairman of the regional grouping.

One human rights expert, Sriprapha Petcharamesree, of Bangkok’s Mahidol University said three Burmese issues—the junta’s response to Cyclone Nargis, refugees, Suu Kyi and other political prisoners—are real threats for the Asean Charter.

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