Bangkok – Those who are hoping that the "Myanmar issue" will be high on the agenda at the Asean Summit in Kuala Lumpur this December are likely to be disappointed. Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said the meeting's focus will be on economic issues and the integration of Asean. There will be no discussion on specific issues or human rights. In other words, the leaders will stick to Asean's long-held policy of non-interference – which some critics say are outdated – at the summit.
"Asean is not in the habit of discussing a particular country in an agenda," Mr Syed Hamid said on Oct 24. However, Asean's 10 leaders are free to raise any issue on the sidelines of the summit, he added.
The absence of the Myanmar issue on the formal agenda of this year's summit will come as no surprise to Asean-watchers. Still, the Bangkok Post couldn't help feeling disappointed that Myanmar's military leaders will be spared from having to engage in a formal discussion with their Asean counterparts over issues such as political reforms and the release of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.
In an editorial, the Post said that by relegating the Myanmar issue to the sidelines, "it is clear that Asean has no intention of really addressing the situation inBurma".
"It is also a slap in the face of the United Nations. Late last year, then UN's special envoy to Burma, Razali Ismail, specifically called on Asean to do more to speed up democratic reforms the junta had promised to carry out. He said there would be no change in Burma unless Asean members accept that responsibility."
The Nation, in an editorial, attributed Asean's reluctance to increase pressure on Myanmar to the organisation's internal problems. "The group is currently facing a huge dilemma because member countries are not in harmony with each other."
Referring to the ongoing diplomatic row between Thailand and Malaysia over the violence in southern Thailand, the newspaper said: "Never before in the history of Asean have the grouping's core countries been so vicious in their dealings with each other. This state of affairs could have far-reaching implications for Asean because it could divide the member states further."
The Nation suggested that it is time for the United Nations' Security Council to be more proactive in pushing for changes in Myanmar.
"If the Security Council takes up the Burmese issue, it would be good for Asean. For one thing, it would remove pressure from the group, which at core wants to see positive change in the country…
"The international community has failed to deliver its promises to (Aung San Suu Kyi) for the last 17 years. Now, only the council's intervention will make a difference."
* Put Burma on the UN's agenda (The Nation, Oct 25)
* Asean must put junta on agenda (Bangkok Post, Oct 26)