Fri 29 May 2009
Filed under: ASEAN,News
Kuala Lumpur-Support for Burma’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has stepped up with about 100 more parliamentarians from Southeast Asian countries adding their voices to the growing international calls for her release.
Two Members of Parliament (MPs) from Singapore, Charles Chong and Inderjit Singh, on Friday called for the suspension of Burma from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) due to the Burmese junta’s disregard for Asean’s concerns over Suu Kyi.
Asean diplomat sources confirmed to The Irrawaddy that leading members of the regional bloc such as Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines are seriously considering suspending Burma’s membership if the junta extends Suu Kyi’s detention or sentences her to prison on trumped-up charges.
In Malaysia, 30 MPs on Tuesday joined half a million other signatories on a petition organized by an umbrella group called â€œFree Burma’s Political Prisoners Now!â€ Among the politicians was Malaysian opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
â€œBefore May 26, only three MPs had signed the petition calling for the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and more than 2,100 political prisoners in Burma,â€ said Ye Min Htun, a Burmese activist based in Kuala Lumpur. â€œBut now, 30 MPs have joined the campaign. I am very surprised.â€
However, observers have pointed out that most signatories were from opposition parties and not from the ruling National Front coalition led by new Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.
Aegile Fernandez, the program coordinator of Tenaganita, a well-known Malaysian human rights group, said that Malaysians are concerned about Suu Kyi’s incarceration. She added that more politicians from the ruling party in Malaysia should show solidarity with Suu Kyi.
In the Philippines, 32 MPs called for a Filipino government resolution on May 21 denouncing her trial in Rangoon and demanding the Burmese military government release Suu Kyi.
Among the new members of Asean, 29 Cambodian MPs voiced their concern by sending a letter of protest this week to the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), which was held in the Cambodian capital on May 27-28.
According to the BBC, during the Asem in Phnom Penh this week, Burma’s Deputy Foreign Minister Maung Myint remarked to British Junior Foreign Minister Bill Rammell that â€œwe [the Burmese junta] are not the enemy.â€ In reply, the British minister reportedly said that although the European Union and Burma are not enemies, they wanted to see freedom for Suu Kyi and positive changes in the country.
Analysts said the Burmese regime’s latest attempt to detain Suu Kyi presents a critical challenge to Asean, which has only recently implemented its first constitution, called the â€œAsean Charter.â€
As the current chairman of Asean, Thailand called on May 19 for the immediate release of Suu Kyi. In a statement on behalf of Asean, the Thai government said it was ready to help with national reconciliation and democracy efforts in Burma.
The Burmese regime responded through its state-run newspaper, The New Light of Myanmar, saying, â€œAlternate Asean Chairman Thailand’s statement [sic] which is not in conformity with Asean practice, [is] incorrect in facts, [and is] interfering in [Burmese] internal affairs.â€
However, a source close to Thailand’s foreign ministry said that although non-interference in internal affairs is one of Asean’s basic principles, members have the â€œcollected responsibilityâ€ for issues in the region under the Asean charter and Thailand’s statement reflected the â€œcollected responsibility.â€
In Phnom Penh, Asean members voiced their support for the Asean chairman’s statement on Burma.
Kavi Chongkittavorn, an editor at Bangkok’s The Nation newspaper, said that Burmese issues are now becoming problematic to the Asean Charter. If Asean cannot handle the issues the charter will be meaningless, he said.
Vietnam will take over the Asean chairmanship next year. Analysts say Asean could be expected to tone down its criticism of Burma under a Vietnamese chairmanship.