Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Indonesia leads Asean Burma fears

(BBC-UK) -Indonesia's foreign minister has said Burma's elections cannot be free and fair unless detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is free.

Hasan Wirayuda was speaking as regional foreign ministers gathered in Thailand for an Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) Regional Forum.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is on her way to the security forum.

Asean has a policy of non-interference in members' affairs, but Burma has provoked widespread censure.

Indonesia has led Asean concerns about Burma, telling correspondents that the group has become frustrated at the lack of progress on democratic reforms.

Mr Wirayuda said the recent trial of Ms Suu Kyi had dashed hopes of a meaningful election scheduled for next year.

A new human rights body created by Asean, lambasted by regional activists as lacking any enforcement power, was almost scuttled over the weekend when an increasingly assertive Indonesia sought to strengthen its provisions.


"We have been saying to them [Burma] directly that the process must be inclusive for all groups in society ... including Aung San Suu Kyi," Mr Wirayuda told The Associated Press in a reference to Burma's planned poll.

"We should see whether from now until 2010 they develop a credible process leading to truly democratic elections acceptable to the international community," he said. (JEG's: what if Burma don't)

He said the "big test" will be whether the regime's promised elections next year are truly "multiparty, meaning inclusive in nature, but also whether the process is a democratic one."

He said Asean has been "able to develop a more open, frank discussion" with Burma, while admitting it was hard to see if all the talk made any difference inside the country.

He was speaking after United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made a fruitless trip to Burma, during which he was not allowed to visit Ms Suu Kyi.

Clinton in Thailand

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said six months ago that the US was reviewing its policy towards Burma as sanctions did not appear to be successful in forcing change.

However, on this, her first trip to an Asean meeting, analysts have noted that there has been no hint of a new policy.

Instead, the talks are expected to focus on finding ways to push North Korea back to the negotiating table.

Six-party talks aimed at ending the North's nuclear programmes stalled last year, and since then the North has set off nuclear and missile tests amid questions over the leadership as Kim Jong-il's health has worsened.

Asean leaders have expressed satisfaction that a figure as senior as Mrs Clinton is at last gracing the regional forum with her presence. In recent years, more junior officers have been sent, leaving the delegate from China, a growing influence in the region, to be the key figure at the talks.

Mrs Clinton will meet Thai Prime Minister Abhisist Vejjajiva and the Thai foreign minister in Bangkok before joining the forum in Phuket.

Another challenge at the regional talks will be for Thailand - it has had to cancel regional summits twice since December due to domestic political turmoil.

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