The issue of Myanmar continues to vex ASEAN.
At the upcoming ASEAN summit, the ASEAN leaders will face the delicate task of balancing their expression of unity as members of ASEAN without compromising their disapproval of one of their fellow-members.
The difficulty of achieving this balance is evident in the ASEAN members’ ambivalence over the United States’ (US) continued effort to push for a United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution on Myanmar. The US has revised its original draft of the UN Resolution and is currently consulting other UN Security members. Acting US Ambassador to the UN Alejandro Wolff expressed hopes for a vote “as soon as possible, hopefully this week.”
The draft resolution noted with “grave concern that the overall situation in Myanmar has deteriorated and poses serious risks to peace and security in the region.” It also called for the release of political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi and a “genuine democratic transition.”
Myanmar’s foreign minister Nyan Win had requested fellow ASEAN members to block the proposed Resolution. However, earlier this week, Indonesia who is currently a non-permanent Security Council member, said that Myanmar should not seek solidarity with ASEAN. On the other hand, Indonesia will not go as far as sanctioning Myanmar. Desra Percaya, the Foreign Ministry's director for international security and disarmament affairs explained Indonesia’s main approach at the UN, "We will urge the use of dialog as a way to solve problems instead of sanctions as we believe that sanctions are not only ineffective but bring misery to people as well."
One Malaysian official said, “We recognised that there’s a problem in Myanmar but we don’t believe that it’s a threat to regional security.”
The US is likely to persist in lobbying for the Resolution on Myanmar despite resistance from China and Russia. The US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State James Warlick has visited Jakarta recently, urging the Indonesian government to support the Resolution.
An influential member of the Indonesian House of Representative, Dioko Susilo (who also sits on the Defense and Foreign Affairs Commission) has also backed a tough UN Resolution on Myanmar. He wrote a commentary in the Jakarta Post (“Muslims Must Back Tough Actions Against Myanmar Military Junta”), urging tough action against the Myanmar government. He highlighted the suffering faced by the Myanmar’s Arakan state Muslim population and warned, “The Myanmar military junta is not only threatening its own people, but has become a problem for the world. Muslims want the UNSC to immediately pass a resolution to bring about national reconciliation, and it is high time for Qatar and, especially, Indonesia to support such action.”
To defuse some of the international pressure, the Myanmar government has shrewdly released five prominent activists on 11 January 2007. These activists have been detained since September 2006 and are members of the 88 Generation Group, which comprises of dissidents who took part in the 1988 pro-democracy student uprising. Last week, the Myanmar government supposedly released 3,000 political detainees to mark the country’s Independence Day (on 4 January). Hopefully, the remaining 52 million Myanmar citizens will be freed some time soon too.
Burmese Junta Releases Dissidents (BBC News, 11 January 2007)
ASEAN Countries Close Ranks on Myanmar (Straits Times, 11 January 2007)
US Clash With Russia, China Over Myanmar; There’s No Need for Washington’s Revised UN Draft Resolution, Say Moscow, Beijing (Today, 11 January 2007)
Muslims Must Back Tough Action Against Myanmar Military Junta (Jakarta Post, 9 January 2007)
New UN Chief Calls for Release of Burma’s Political Prisoners (Irrawaddy, 9 January 2007)
RI Will Favour Dialog Over Sanctions At UN (Jakarta Post, 8 January 2007)