Fri 29 Jul 2005
Filed under: ASEAN,News
Vientiane: Asian foreign ministers said Friday the West’s policy of isolating Myanmar was not working, and their own backdoor diplomacy was more effective in persuading the military state to reform.
Both sides agreed however that Myanmar’s decision to skip its chance to chair the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) next year should not spare the military-ruled nation from pressure to change.
The United States and European Union insisted during meetings of Asia’s main security forum in Laos that they would maintain their sanctions on Myanmar while Asian nations said the sanctions were a failure.
Deputy US Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, who called Myanmar a “cancer” that could affect the rest of the region, said his country’s economic sanctions would not be lifted any time soon.
“I urge the (Myanmar) government to take seriously the effort to move towards a serious national reconciliation process,” Zoellick told reporters at the end of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) security dialogue in the Lao capital Vientiane.
“I hope that for the security of the ASEAN region that Burma changes its course.”
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, also at the meeting, confirmed Europe’s intention to keep its sanctions in place.
The European Union last October reinforced sanctions on Yangon after the junta failed to meet its demands on human rights, including the release from house arrest of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won the 1990 election by a landslide but was never allowed to take government, with the army seizing power instead.
The EU measures against Myanmar include an arms embargo, a visa blacklist and an asset freeze.
“For the European Union, the situation vis-a-vis Myanmar has not changed. Therefore, the position of the EU has not changed,” Solana said.
Thai Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon said that while ASEAN would keep the pressure on Myanmar, it would also continue dialogue with the generals.
The dialogue has been partly credited for Myanmar’s dramatic decision Tuesday to forego its quest for the ASEAN chair to avoid embarrassing the grouping.
“Since we have kept Myanmar engaged, we have been able to relay to them our concerns about their national reconciliation process,” Kantathi said.
“So that door that we have left open with them has been very, very useful. We have to be able to give them frank opinion, etcetera, and there has been healthy interaction.
“We do have quiet diplomacy and we intend to use that door to engage Myanmar in the direction that we would like to see… The pressure is not off,” Kantathi said.
East Timor’s Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta said sanctions were an error.
Ramos-Horta, who recently visited Yangon, said the way to induce change was through diplomatic engagement and contact with tourism, education, investment and trade.
“Looking at the dilapidated capital Yangon, the sad look in peoples’ faces, their isolation and poverty, reading the disturbing data about the drugs and HIV/AIDS pandemic, the proliferation of irregular armed groups and weapons, the absence of a sizable middle class and a private sector, I feel it is an error to further punish Myanmar,” he said.
In a final statement after their annual talks, the ARF demanded Myanmar “lift restrictions” and resume dialogue with all parties.
They also said the UN special representative, who has been barred for a year, must be allowed to return.