Fri, 26 Sep 2003

Yangoon's coolness disappoints Mega

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, New York

President Megawati Soekarnoputri expressed disappointment on Wednesday (Thursday Jakarta time) at the cool response from Myanmar to the visit of special envoy Ali Alatas early this week to secure the release of prodemocracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Briefing the press in New York before leaving for a two-day visit to Tunisia, Megawati said the visit of her special envoy to Myanmar failed to secure the release of the opposition leader.

She also urged the military junta to come up with a better arrangement to ensure the democratization process in the country.

"The message that I sent to them was clear, that is we want the democratization process in Myanmar to continue and Madam Suu Kyi released before the upcoming ASEAN summit, slated to begin on Oct. 7," the President said.

"The road map for democracy and reconciliation in Myanmar that they presented has no clear direction or time frame. So there is a possibility of me sending Ali Alatas to the country for a second time," Megawati said.

The President said she would summon Ali Alatas for a report on results of his trip to Myanmar.

"I would like to hear more details of his visit, which I heard was warmly welcomed by Myanmar authorities," Megawati stressed.

As the chair of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN), in which Myanmar is also a member, Indonesia has become the focal point for all member countries to pressure Myanmar to release Suu Kyi.

Ali Alatas traveled to Myanmar last Sunday to campaign for the release of Suu Kyi, who has been detained since June. He met with Myanmar leaders but failed to meet Suu Kyi face to face.

Indonesia has repeatedly said that Suu Kyi should be released before the ASEAN Summit in Bali early next month.

Major countries such as the United States and Japan have threatened to impose sanctions on Myanmar, while fellow ASEAN member Malaysia has proposed expelling the country from the regional grouping.

The President also said the Myanmar issue was one of the topics of discussion in her meeting with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

"Secretary-General Annan would like to hear about the recent development in the Southeast Asia region in dealing with the Myanmar issue," Megawati disclosed.

Meanwhile, Suu Kyi's doctor said on Thursday that she would be discharged from the hospital in "a day or two", but it was unclear if she would be detained again, put under house arrest or be freed.

Nor was it clear whether stepped up pressure from neighbors on Myanmar military rulers to end Suu Kyi's nearly four-month isolation would have any impact. A Thai envoy talked to them on Thursday, a day after Alatas left empty-handed.

"I cannot definitely say the date she will be discharged, but it will be in a day or two," Dr. Tin Myo Win announced at the private Yangon hospital where Suu Kyi is recuperating after major surgery for gynecological problems last week.

Asked where she would be taken to convalesce, Tin Myo Win said, "It's the concern of the authorities, but I have told them I need to be in touch with her for another one or two months and the authorities have agreed to it."

There is concern that attendees of next month's ASEAN summit could be embarrassed if the military keeps the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner, whose plight has sparked international outrage and Western sanctions, isolated.

The 10-member ASEAN, one of the few groups willing to have Myanmar as a member, will meet on Bali. Usually loathe to criticize the internal affairs of its members, the group issued a sharp rebuke to Yangon after Suu Kyi was detained on May 30 following a bloody clash between her supporters and government backers.

ASEAN Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong said on Wednesday the group's credibility and image would take a knock if it did not express concern over Myanmar's actions.

However, he did not expect a serious effort in Bali to expel Myanmar.