Kuala Lumpur – That Myanmar has long been an "embarrassment" to Asean is no secret. But when an Asean minister used the term to describe the state of Myanmar's domestic affairs – and in an Asean setting no less - it suggests that the grouping's legendary patience with Myanmar's military rulers has been stretched almost to the limit.
At a meeting of Asean Foreign Ministers on Dec 9, Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said military rule in Myanmar had caused much embarrassment to the grouping.
"We respect the position of Myanmar as a member of Asean but at the same time, I don't think any single country in Asean does not feel impatient, or does not feel uncomfortable, because it does create problems for us.
"We hope they will take steps without us wanting to interfere in their affairs. But this has created embarrassment, difficulties, problems for Asean countries," said Mr Syed Hamid, who had previously championed constructive engagement with Myanmar.
Mr Syed Hamid said that during an informal dinner on Dec 8, Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win told his counterparts that opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest had been extended by another six months. Mr Syed Hamid added that Myanmar had been told to come up with "tangible results" in implementing its roadmap to democracy and to release Ms Suu Kyi.
Malaysia's New Straits Times described Mr Syed Hamid's remarks as the "harshest rebuke Myanmar has received from Asean members". "The tone of exasperation by foreign ministers ahead of the two-day (Asean Summit) also suggested a growing impatience with the military junta in Yangon over unmet promises on human rights and democracy," it added.
Singapore's The Straits Times described his remarks as "a move marking away from the grouping's policy of non-interference".
Despite Asean’s official frustration with Myanmar, the 10-member grouping is unlikely to expel its recalcitrant member despite calls from Asean lawmakers.
Last week, the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus said Myanmar should be expelled from Asean if Yangon did not free Suu Kyi and other political prisoners within a year.
However, Mr M C Abad, Asean Regional Forum unit head, said explusion is not a viable option. "There is no provision in any Asean instrument providing for such measures. Asean does not interfere in the internal affairs of Myanmar. However, Asean merely encouraged Myanmar to carry out what it has committed to do," he said.
* Asean rules out expelling Myanmar (Bernama, Dec 8)
* Myanmar urged to buck up (New Straits Times, Dec 10)
* Asean tells Myanmar: Free Suu Kyi (The Star, Dec 10)
* Asean foreign ministers press Yangon for reforms (The Straits Times, Dec 10)