Monday, July 20, 2009

Burmese FM: Ban’s Proposals Not Off the Table

Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win, center, is surrounded by security guards as he walks to the ministerial meeting retreat at the 42nd Association of Southeast Asian Nations ministerial meeting in Phuket. (Photo: AP)

The Irrawaddy News

PHUKET, Thailand —Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win told his counterparts from Southeast Asian nations on Sunday that issues including the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners recommended by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have not necessarily been ruled out. (JEG's: did he use "political" or he just mentioned prisoners in general, more tricks out of his bag?)

After an informal working dinner on Sunday, Surin Pitsuwan, the secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), told reporters: “We have been briefed [by Nyan Win] about the visit of the [UN] secretary-general, and we have been told some issues recommended by the secretary-general should not be taken as [having] not been accepted because [they have] not been responded to. It will take time.(JEG's: deadlines required...)

Nyan Win’s comment could be interpreted to mean that Ban’s call to release Suu Kyi and all political prisoners is under consideration by the military regime.

However, some analysts said the remark could also be a way for the ruling generals to buy time, in light of the strong international criticism they have received over the ongoing trial of Suu Kyi.

Ban called for the release of all political prisoners during his trip to Burma in early July. His request to see Suu Kyi was turned down by the military regime.

Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said on Sunday that the Suu Kyi issue should be resolved through an inclusive political process that the international community and Asean have called for.

Kasit said the criticism over Burma’s arrest and trial of Suu Kyi was not interference in the country’s internal affairs.

“I think it is a part of the whole inclusive political process,” he said. “We do not disrupt or interfere in the internal affairs of Myanmar [Burma]. But Myanmar is a part of the Asean family.”

Responding to questions about a possible Asean role in monitoring Burma’s upcoming elections in 2010, Kasit said it was a possibility but no discussions have taken place.

With the foreign ministers’ approval of the Terms of Reference language for the new Asean Human Rights Body, Asean will now form a human rights commission comprised of representatives from member countries.

Kasit told reporters that ministers are generally supportive of the proposed name “Asean Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights.”

Other issues relating to Burma included a faster visa processing effort for members of the Tripartite Core Group, who work on the Cyclone Nargis relief effort.

Surin said the regime needs to play a more active role in granting visas for humanitarian workers.

“There have been some serious backward steps,” he said. “The TCG will have to be a part of the decision process [on visas for relief workers].

The TCG is comprised of Burmese officials, Asean and the UN. During the 14th Asean Summit in Cha-am in late February, the Burmese regime agreed to extend the mandate for TCG to work until July 2010, while Asean and the UN have called for a three-year recovery plan for the Cyclone Nargis relief effort.

Commenting on the human rights body at a press conference, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Monday the rights body will operate under three principles: credibility, realism and evolution.

The first step will be the promotion of human rights for the 577 million Asean citizens, he said.

Protection, or enforcement, “of human rights will be an evolving process,” Abhisit said. “Better to make a start than no progress at all."

Some human rights groups in the region have expressed disappointment over Asean’s perceived lack of commitment and means to enforce human rights’ protection in the region.

"Without the protection mandate and the independent experts, the Asean human rights body will be a toothless tiger,” said Yap Swee Seng, the executive director of the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development in a statement.

On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet with the Thai prime minister in Phuket. She will attend the full meeting of the Asean Regional Forum on Wednesday and Thursday.

Clinton is expected to address the issues of North Korea, the political situation in Burma and the recent terrorist bombing in Jakarta.

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