Asean having second thoughts about giving Myanmar the chair

Updated On: Mar 25, 2005

Jakarta- In a sign that Asean is increasingly worried about the diplomatic problems that would arise from havingMyanmaras its chairman in 2006, the grouping's diplomats are now talking about the need to persuadeYangonto give up the post voluntarily.

InMalaysia, which had once worked hard to getMyanmarinto Asean, a senior official went a step further by saying that the government would table a motion in Parliament calling forYangonto be refused the Asean chairmanship unless it carries out democratic reforms.

The chair is rotated alphabetically each year among Asean's 10 members.Malaysiatakes over the chair this year andMyanmar's turn is due November 2006.

"There is no precedent of a member being suspended from taking the chairmanship or being bypassed. However, if a member who is due to take over chooses to give it up turn voluntarily, then this is possible," said an Asean official.

Thus, a face-saving formula could be suggested in whichYangonsteps aside voluntarilyand allows another Asean member to be the next chairman instead.

InKuala Lumpur, Mr Nazri Abdul Azizsaid on March 21 that the government would table a motion in Parliament calling onMyanmar's military rulers to release opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and speed up political reforms.

"We will ask forMyanmar's turn to be chairman to be suspended and given to other countries until democratic reforms are carried out," the Minister in the Prime Minister's Office added.

The moves came amid reports that theUnited Statesand other countries might boycott the Asean Summit in 2006 and two major meetings immediately afterwards if they were held inYangonas scheduled.

Asean's foreign ministers are likely to discuss the issue when they hold a retreat inCebu,thePhilippines, on April 10.

In an editorial, The Nation noted that "for the past eight years, Asean has accepted numerous transgressions byBurma's junta, keeping its collective silence in the interest of preserving the group's strong sense of solidarity. Now it seems all the goodwill and patience have been exhausted. The junta leaders simply refuse to budge from their hardline polices, which have engendered political oppression and flagrant violation of human rights".

It describesMalaysia's decision to speak out againstMyanmaras courageous, given the fact that the grouping has long adhered to the rule of non-interference in each other's internal affairs.

"This was dramatic, coming fromKuala Lumpur, which had once diligently pushed forBurma's inclusion in Asean. The import ofMalaysia's willingness to change its stance will not be lost on the region."

The newspaper believes that Asean now realises that havingMyanmaras a member is a liability, "making the group a target for international ridicule and criticism".

"Perhaps, Asean has come to the realisation that it would be better off withoutBurma," The Nation said.

* Burma's chance of chairing Asean at risk (The Nation, March 24)

* Asean may need face-saving solution to Myanmar issue (The Straits Times, March 24)

* Motion calls for Myanmar to free Suu Kyi (The Star, March 22)

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