MPs: Suspend Myanmar from Asean if Suu Kyi's not freed

Updated On: Sep 30, 2005

Kuala Lumpur – Release opposition leader Aung San Syu Kyi and other political prisoners within a year or Myanmar's membership in Asean will be suspended. That is the ultimatum that Asean lawmakers want the 10-member regional grouping to issue to the military junta in Yangon. This is the first time that Asean lawmakers have made such a collective call as the "Myanmar issue" continues to be an albatross round Asean's neck. 

     According to Ms Teresa Kok, secretary of the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Caucus on Democracy in Myanmar, legislators from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, want their governments to set a deadline for September next year for Myanmar to release Ms Suu Kyi from house arrest.
    The Associated Press quoted Ms Kok as saying that the lawmakers believe Asean should strengthen efforts to push Myanmar towards democracy because there has been "no sign of concrete steps towards a national reconciliation" since Yangon announced in July that it will forgo the Asean chairmanship next year.  
     Whether the Caucus' call will be heeded by their governments remains to be seen given Asean's long-held policy of non-interference in each other's internal affairs.  
     Asean Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong said: "Our approach is that we know there is a problem in Myanmar. But Myanmar is already part of the family, so we should continue to engage it and get it to move in a certain direction.
     "But we cannot take the demands of these parliamentarians just because Myanmar did not do certain things. Our leaders are very much in charge of the situation and will continue with the course of engagement."
     In Bangkok, a Burmese analyst said there is a "lot of hot air" but little action when it comes to dealing with the problems in Myanmar.  
     Mr Toe Zaw Latt, a research associate with The Burma Fund, said the process of national reconciliation in Myanmar is akin to the story of the six blind wise men. 
     "Six blind men try to figure out what an elephant looks like by touching one. One wise man touches the elephant's ear and says an elephant is like a fan. Another touches its tail and says an elephant is like a rope, and so on…Can  blind men lead a reasonable reconciliation process in Burma?"
     In his commentary published in the Bangkok Post, Mr Toe noted that many world leaders, from US President George W Bush to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, had expressed concern over Myanmar
     "Yet, all the UN has done is dispatch a special envoy, Razali Ismail, to initiate 'secret talks' between the generals and Daw Aung San Su Kyi. This got us nowhere. Mr Annan should join ex-Czech President Vaclav Havel and Bishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Laureate, in their urgent call for the UN Security Council to consider applying pressure to bring genuine reform and national reconciliation in Burma."
     In Myanmar itself, he said, reconciliation means different things to the various parties. The ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) wants "national unity" under military tutelage. Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) has defined their goal of national reconciliation as about finding "ways to condone each other".
     "Whatever the differences in interpretation, all parties seeking national reconciliation should consider each other's positions and work out some common ground, or points of convergence. It is time to establish a proper process comprising the UN, SPDC, NLD, religious leaders and ethnic nationality leaders. Fifty-two million Burmese people are waiting."     

* What national reconciliation (Bangkok Post, Sept 28)

* Lawmakers want Asean to suspend Myanmar (The Straits Times, Sept 27)