Another Burma promise
Bangkok Post, 21 July 2008
Singapore – Burma ratified the charter of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Monday and vowed to uphold its democratic ideals, but dashed hopes of releasing opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi within the next six months.
The country, vilified for its dictatorial government and human rights abuses, became the seventh of the 10-member regional grouping to ratify the document, which was signed by the leaders in November last year.
“Myanmar‘s ratification of the charter demonstrates our strong commitment to embrace the common values and aspirations of the peoples of Asean,” Foreign Minister Nyan Win said, using the military dictators’ new name for Burma.
“It is my honest hope that with the growing momentum of ratification, our common goal and commitment to complete ratification of the charter by all member states will be realized at the time of our leaders’ summit in Bangkok” in December, he added.
While foreign ministers attending the 41st Asean Ministers Meeting watched, Nyan Win handed over the document to Asean Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan, to the applause of observers.
Burma was also among the Asean countries which unanimously set up a high-level panel on an Asean human rights body, and endorse its terms of reference.
“We urged Myanmar to take bolder steps towards a peaceful transition to democracy in the near future,” and work towards the holding of free and fair general elections in 2010,” said the minister’s communique at the end of the meeting.
“We reiterated our calls for the release of all political detainees, including Suu Kyi, to pave the way for meaningful dialogue involving all parties concerned.”
In a separate statement, Singapore Minister for Foreign Af`fairs George Yeo said Ngan Win had clarified that Suu Kyi would not be released in the next six months, but six months from May 2009, the expiry date of the existing one-year detention order.
Yeo, who is also Asean chairman, and other foreign ministers “misunderstood the point made by the Burmese foreign minister on the limit of the detention period,” a statement said.
The “clarification” was made at the ministers’ meeting Monday afternoon.
Suu Kyi has spent 13 years in detention since 1989. Her house arrest was recently extended.
Surin said he was sure the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia would soon ratify the charter and that he expected the ratification process to be completed by December.
“The charter will help us building an Asean community we can all be proud of,” he said.
The document, which will turn the 41-year-old regional grouping into a legal entity, was initially opposed by the ruling junta because of its inclusion of human rights.
Several Philippine senators said they would oppose the ratification of the charter until the military junta that has ruled Burma since 1962 institutes democratic reforms.
In opening the meeting, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Asean had decided to press on with the charter’s implementation without waiting for all 10 members to ratify it.
“The internal processes of member countries are different and some will be more difficult than others, Lee said.
The Burmese ratification occurred a day after Asean ministers expressed their “deep disappointment” over the continued detention of Suu Kyi and undetermined numbers of political prisoners.
Asean comprises Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.