Thu, 24 Jul 2003

ASEAN may send envoy to urge Suu Kyi's release

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Nusa Dua, Bali

Indonesia has proposed that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) send a delegation to Myanmar in an attempt to win the release of prodemocracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Philippine foreign minister Blas Ople told a press conference that Indonesian President Megawati Soekarnoputri had named special envoy Ali Alatas to lead the delegation.

"Pressure on Myanmar will be stepped up and Indonesian President Megawati Soekarnoputri plans to send a message directly to the junta in Yangoon," Ople said, adding that the message would be delivered by Alatas, Indonesia's foreign minister in three cabinets under the autocratic New Order regime.

"I believe that the message will be a blunt statement," he remarked.

Ople held bilateral talks with his Indonesian counterpart Hassan Wirayuda on terrorism earlier in the day, in which the hosts revealed their intention of dispatching Alatas to Yangoon on behalf of ASEAN.

Indonesia chairs the regional organization until June next year. It is hosting the fifth Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Nusa Dua, which will be officially opened by Megawati on Thursday.

ASEAN member countries have expressed great concern over political developments in Myanmar and in the Chairman's Statement issued at the conclusion of the organization's ministerial meeting in Phnom Penh last month, Yangoon was urged to release Suu Kyi.

The detention of Suu Kyi earlier this year has put the military regime in Myanmar under international scrutiny, with some countries, such as the United States and Japan, considering imposing economic sanctions against the Southeast Asian country.

In an apparent change from its usual non-interventionist stance, Malaysia has asked for Myanmar's expulsion from ASEAN.

Hassan was cautious, however, when asked about Alatas' mission to Myanmar.

He said the proposal was still on the table as Indonesia was expecting a Myanmar special envoy who would meet President Megawati in Jakarta on Monday.

"We will decide on the next step after we hear what the special envoy wants to convey to us," the minister told a separate conference.

He said that ASEAN's other members were waiting impatiently for some major development in Myanmar, and Indonesia as the chair of ASEAN was moving ahead with various approaches to persuade Myanmar to release Suu Kyi from detention.

However, Hassan reiterated that isolating Myanmar would not resolve the stand-off. Instead, dialog would be the best way to deal with the situation.

"I do not see that we have to depart too much from the existing statement of ASEAN ministers made last month in Phnom Penh," the minister stressed.

At the conclusion of the ASEM senior officials meeting on Wednesday, Asian and European countries spoke with one voice in urging Myanmar to release Suu Kyi immediately and move ahead with the democratization process.

Underlining the need for Myanmar to listen to the rest of the world regarding the detention of the opposition leader, ASEM member countries said that they were waiting impatiently for some changes to take place in the country.

"It is about time that they listen to rest of the world, especially to their neighbors, regarding the ongoing situation in Myanmar," European Union Commissioner of External Relations Chris Patten told a press conference.

He said that both Asian and European countries shared the same concerns over Myanmar as the military junta had done a great deal of economic and social damage to its own country by ignoring the calls from the rest of the world.

The fifth ASEM meeting is set to address the Myanmar issue in the Chairman's Statement to be issued on Thursday, which is expected to contain a reiteration of the strong concerns around the world for Suu Kyi's release.

Patten underlined that the world strongly deplored the arrest of Suu Kyi and the stalling of the reconciliation process in Myanmar, and that this stance should be reflected in the upcoming Chairman's Statement.

"I very much hope that in this meeting we can agree on such condemnation, which we hope will come from the Asian ministers," he underlined.