Thu, 19 Jun 2003

Observers praise ASEAN's new policy on Myanmar

A'an Suryana, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Observers are praising the tough stance taken toward Myanmar's military rulers by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, saying this is a democratic step forward for the member states of ASEAN.

"ASEAN has shown to the outside world that it has become more democratic," Indonesian veteran diplomat Wirjono Sastrohandoyo told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday on the sidelines of a seminar at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

ASEAN is pushing Myanmar to release prodemocracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been detained since May 30.

This new policy is seen as a clean break from the past, because it is the first time ASEAN has broken its principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of member states.

The stance was declared during the recent two-day ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh.

The meeting was held amid an international uproar over the detention of Nobel laureate Suu Kyi, whose supporters were involved in a deadly clash with a progovernment mob before she was detained.

Wirjono said international pressure was a consideration in ASEAN's decision to take a tougher stance on Myanmar.

He said the regional grouping could not ignore prominent international actors such as the European Union (EU), which is an important economic partner for ASEAN.

"EU members make very significant investments in ASEAN countries," he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell demanded last week tougher sanctions against the military junta in Myanmar, and called on the EU to discuss tightening sanctions against the country.

A senior researcher at the CSIS, Bantarto Bandoro, said two things pushed ASEAN to take a tough stance against Myanmar's military junta.

He said globalization, which is characterized by the spread of democratic values, forced ASEAN countries to open up to these values.

"The new policy proves that ASEAN has become more mature about this issue," he said over the phone.

Second, by adopting a tougher policy, ASEAN is being proactive in stabilizing the region.

The detention of Suu Kyi had created an international uproar and has the potential to upset regional security.

Applying pressure on Myanmar's military junta is seen as a precautionary measure to curb any possible threat to regional security, Bantarto said.

In other developments, Myanmar has been warned behind closed doors that its ASEAN neighbors may review their "constructive engagement" policy with Yangon unless the government makes progress on political reforms, the Philippines Foreign Secretary Blas Ople said as quoted by Agence France-Presse news agency.

The warning was delivered to Myanmar Foreign Minister U Win Aung by some of his ASEAN counterparts, Ople wrote in the Manila Bulletin newspaper on Wednesday.