Thu 30 Mar 2006
Filed under: International,News
Neighbours China and India must coax Myanmar to hasten democratic reform, ASEAN’s chief said on Thursday, after an envoy from the Southeast Asian grouping failed to meet opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi last week.
Frustrated by Myanmar’s glacial pace toward reform, and under pressure to do something about its most awkward member, the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) sent Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar on a mission there.
Ong Ken Yong, ASEAN secretary general, said the outcome had disappointed the 10-member grouping but not discouraged it.
“I am not pessimistic but I’m disappointed that this opportunity has not yielded the kind of sweeter fruit that we want,” Ong told reporters in the Malaysian capital.
ASEAN was founded on the principle of non-interference in a member state’s internal affairs, and Ong said the grouping had little leeway on what it could do next over Myanmar.
“ASEAN loves to look after everybody’s ego and interests, so there is a very limited space for us to maneuver on this issue,” he said. “Don’t forget, Myanmar is a member so we can’t be nasty to our own brothers and sisters from Myanmar.”
But giant neighbours China and India could take a larger role in encouraging Myanmar to speed reform measures. “We should ask China and India to be more persuasive,” Ong added.
Asked if such a step would show the grouping’s own approach had failed, he said: “Every coin has two sides. I don’t think we have been unsuccessful in dealing with this issue. Don’t forget Syed Hamid went to Myanmar as ASEAN chairman, so I believe on that count alone we have moved maybe 2 centimeters.”
ASEAN had resolved at its summit in December to send an envoy to meet both Myanmar’s ruling generals and Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy won elections in 1990 but was denied power by the junta. She has spent nine of the last 16 years behind bars or under house arrest.
Syed Hamid met the generals, who he has said dismissed Suu Kyi as having no more influence, and voiced ASEAN’s position. He said he would report back on his trip to ASEAN foreign ministers next month in Bali where the grouping would decide its next step.
Myanmar has proposed a seven-step “roadmap to democracy” but the military, which has ruled the former Burma since 1962, says it is still only midway through the first step, drafting a new constitution, and will not set a timetable.
The West does not treat the roadmap seriously, and Myanmar’s neighbours criticize it as too vague and too slow.