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Visit to Myanmar by Syed Hamid, finally… but what has it accomplished?

Updated On: Mar 28, 2006

After months of speculation and delays, Malaysian Minister Syed Hamid Albar finally made the trip to Myanmar.

The Malaysian newspaper, New Straits Times reported Syed Hamid  describing his trip “a success”. Syed Hamid is expected to submit a report of his trip at the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting retreat in Bali on 17-18 April. However, it is still not clear as to what was accomplished in the visit.

Syed Hamid arrived in Myanmar on Friday (24 March 2006). He held talks with Prime Minister Soe Win and his counterpart, Foreign Minister Nyan and explained to Soe Win that Myanmar must convince everyone that it was serious about establishing “a road map” to democracy. He also met with the head of the junta-affiliated Union Solidarity and Development Association, Htay Oo, who is also the Minister for Agriculture and Irrigation and the Vice-Chairman of the National Convention Convening Committee, Aung Toe.

However, Syed Hamid left home a day earlier, raising suspicions that talks were not successful. The Burmese Democratic Voice of Burma cited sources that said Syed Hamid only met with Soe Win for 20 minutes before leaving for the airport. Syed Hamid also did not meet the junta “supreme” leader, Senior General Than Shwe.

Another indication that the Myanmar government did not recognise Syed Hamid’s visit as representing ASEAN could be seen in the differences in which the visit was represented by the official media. The official Myanmar government newspaper referred to the visit by Syed Hamid as a “goodwill visit” which was “at the invitation of the Government of Myanmar.” This did not seem to correspond with the Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs press release (earlier on 23 March 2006) which pointed out that the Syed Hamid was [in Myanmar] “in his capacity as the Chairman of the ASEAN Standing Committee.”

Despite Syed Hamid’s reassurance that the visit was a success, the reality could be quite different.  The National League for Democracy spokesman, U Nyan Win has called the visit “incomplete” as Syed Hamid had “met only with the government and not the democratic forces.” Syed Hamid did not meet the detained opposition member Aung San Suu Kyi, explaining “the reason given for the prohibition was that Suu Kyi is under house arrest.” He conceded that “it would have been better if I had been allowed to meet Suu Kyi and other political leaders as it would be a step towards their democratic reform.” After all, the Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs press release had stated that his intention was “to visit Myanmar to obtain first hand information on the progress of the implementation of the reconciliation and democratisation process in Myanmar.” 

A member of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC), Lim Kit Siang (from Malaysia) put it plainly, “It’s not positive at all.” 

Sources:

“Burma Civil Servants to receive 10-fold raise: Officials,” (Agence France Presse, 27 March 2006)

“ASEAN Envoy Says Regrettable did not meet Aung San Suu Kyi,” (Agence France Presse, 26 March 2006)

Burma’s Democracy League says Malaysian Minister’s Visit ‘Incomplete’,” (Democratic Voice of Burma Website 26 March 2006)

“Syed Hamid: Yangon Trip a Success,” (New Straits Times, 26 March 2006)  

“Foreign Affairs Minister Meets Malaysian Counterparts,” (New Light of Myanmar24 March 2006)

“Visit of the Honourable Dato’ Seri Syed Hamid Albar, Minister of Foreign Affairs to Myanmar,” (Press Release by Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 23 March 2006)