Tue, 29 Jul 2003

ASEAN proposes quiet diplomacy to release Suu Kyi

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Bandung

Indonesia, as the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), is set to engage in quiet diplomacy to defuse the ongoing stand-off in Myanmar, foreign minister Hassan Wirayuda said.

Hassan asserted that a closed-door approach would be more effective in urging the Myanmarese military government to bow to international demand for the immediate release of pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

"We believe that the involvement of Indonesia in quiet diplomacy will be more effective in ensuring the release of Aung San Suu Kyi," Hassan said here on Monday.

Hassan is attending the Asia-Africa Sub-Regional Organization Conference (AASROC) in Bandung, in which Myanmarese foreign minister Win Aung is participating.

He had accompanied President Megawati Soekarnoputri in meeting Win Aung earlier in the day in Jakarta, before traveling to Bandung.

No significant progress ensued from the talks, as Win Aung, a special envoy sent by the military junta, failed to set a timeframe for the release of Suu Kyi.

Asked by reporters if Suu Kyi would be freed, Win Aung replied, "Yes of course. She will not remain there for a long period."

Hassan said the Indonesian government had sent a letter to the Myanmar junta informing them of the planned dispatch of former foreign minister Ali Alatas. Alatas is set to convey special messages from President Megawati regarding the worsening situation after the arrest of 1991 Nobel laureate Suu Kyi on May 30.

"Myanmar agrees to open a direct dialog channel with Indonesia, without an open debate regarding the ongoing process of reconciliation in the country," Hassan said.

He also said ASEAN had been hoping that Win Aung's visit would result in the release of Suu Kyi.

Suu Kyi was detained after she and her supporters, who had been making a political tour, were ambushed by a pro-government mob in an incident feared to have left dozens dead.

Myanmar's military junta says it is holding Suu Kyi for her own safety, but has come under strong pressure even from fellow ASEAN members, as she continues to be held under protective custody.

Win Aung, speaking after meeting Megawati, said Suu Kyi was "well looked after."

He said he brought a message from junta chief Gen. Than Shwe that Myanmar was doing what it could to normalize the situation before releasing Suu Kyi.

Win Aung said his country was in a "cool-down period."

"Of course, there's no intention from us to prolong this," he said as quoted by Agence France-Presse. Asked how long the cool- down period would last, the foreign minister replied, "It depends on ... how hot it is."

Win Aung said Megawati understood Myanmar's problems and expressed her hope that the country could solve them. "She has only goodwill toward our country."

Although ASEAN has generally stayed away from its members' domestic affairs, the controversy over the incident that prompted Suu Kyi's arrest, as well as her continued detention, has caused a furor among the region's leaders.

Last month, ASEAN issued an unprecedented call for Suu Kyi's release, while Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who helped bring Myanmar into ASEAN in 1997, went one step further by warning that it could face expulsion from the grouping as a last resort.

Foreign ministers from Asia and Europe last week urged the junta to "immediately release" Suu Kyi and resume efforts towards national reconciliation and democracy.

In Malaysia, UN envoy on Myanmar Razali Ismail to The Associated Press on Monday, "The United Nations and ASEAN should coordinate their efforts to send similar signals that Aung San Suu Kyi should be released immediately and the reconciliation process should move forward."