Kuala Lumpur - Asean's perennial political headache, Myanmar, has once again drawn international opprobrium by announcing that it is extending the house arrest of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other political detainees by another six months. A caucus of Asean lawmakers has now called for Myanmar's explusion from the grouping if the military junta does not free the political detainees within a year and move towards democratisation.
The Asean Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) said Yangon had promised many times to undertake the necessary democratic reforms and to release Aung San Suu Kyi but nothing was done. Since 1990, the opposition leader has spent most of her time under detention. Her latest period in custody began in May 2003.
Asean is committing a "great error" by not making Myanmar fulfill its promises, Mr Zaid Ibrahim, caucus president and a Malaysian government MP, told reporters on Dec 3 at the AIPMC's two-day meeting in Kuala Lumpur.
He said AIPMC also wants Myanmar, which has declined to take over the rotated Asean chairmanship after Malaysia in 2006, to be banned from chairing the 10-member grouping until it achieves meaningful reforms.
The AIPMC was formed last year to work for the unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political detainees and the holding of a legitimate national convention to draw a new constitution for Myanmar.
The caucus members are from Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and Myanmar. Cambodian legislators are expected to join in the next few months.
In Manila, Philippine Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel said the continued refusal of the junta to free Aung San Suu Kyi shows that Myanmar "can't be trusted".
"It should be expelled from the Asean," said Mr Pimentel, who is AIPMIC's vice-chairman. He suggested that the Philippine government take the lead in imposing sanctions on Myanmar during the Asean leaders' summit in Kuala Lumpur on Dec 11 – 14.
While the calls for Myanmar's expulsion can be expected to grow louder in the coming weeks, an editorial in the New Straits Times (NST) cautioned that such a move may not necessarily work to the advantage of the 10-member grouping.
"The region's practised diplomats know that any talk of regime change, no matter how politely put, will cause the generals to recoil deeper into their shells."
The Malaysian newspaper said there is a need for some "rethinking" on how to deal with Myanmar.
"… The only way forward is to persuade the junta to buy into a less punitive programme of national reconciliation, with suitable rewards dangled at each step. Even Suu Kyi feels that haggling cannot be avoided. A new bargain will have to be struck, first for a common position, and then for a coherent road map to lay on the negotiating table.
"It won't be easy to deal with so odious a dictatorship. But plenty of rethinking will have to take place before the people of Myanmar can be relieved of their oppression and the international community unburdened of the shame of inaction," the editorial said.
* A new deal on Myanmar (New Straits Times, Dec 4)
* Asean lawmakers want Myanmar expelled if no reform in a year (Bernama, Dec 3)
* Pimentel calls for ouster of Myanmar from Asean (The Manila Times, Dec 2)