PM criticises pressures to stop Myanmar from ASEAN chairmanship
US and EU will boycott ASEAN summit if Myanmar takes the chair. Asian countries are putting pressures on Yangôn's military junta to make concrete changes.

Yangôn (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Myanmar, Prime Minister Soe Win has criticised some foreign powers and individuals for interfering in his country's internal affairs on the pretext of human rights and democracy. "These conspiracies are against international norms and practices," he said yesterday.

Claiming that his country was on the right track towards progress, Soe Win said his government had laid down in August 2003 a seven-point political roadmap that would lead to a new constitution, a national referendum and new general elections.

Earlier the week, US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice called on Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to put pressure on the regime in Yangôn to free Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners languishing for years in Burmese jails.

"We hear from time to time representations that there will be progress, but there seem never to be progress," Rice said.
Ms Rice said that she was "sorry [for not being] able to go to the ASEAN summit this year", which is scheduled to take place in the Laotian capital of Vientiane. She said that she was committed to other "essential travel".

For some analysts, the absence of a US Secretary of State from an ASEAN meeting—the first time since 1982—is a blow to the organisation which relies on the US to counter China's increasing influence in the region. For them, the crux of the matter remains Myanmar.

The region's members have had difficult relations with the military junta that has ruled Myanmar since 1990 when it intervened—alleging electoral fraud—to stop the National League for Democracy under  the Aung San Suu Kyi from taking power after winning the elections.

The international community is unwilling to cooperate with an illegitimate regime that has repressed all forms of dissent—Ms Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for 15 years on various grounds—and oppressed its population, especially the country's minorities.

The regime does not seem bent on protecting the interests of the population or cooperating with other countries. Thailand for example is trying to eliminate drug production and trade, whilst Myanmar remains one of the greatest producers.

ASEAN has always stayed out of the internal affairs of its member states, but pressures for change in Myanmar are increasing.

For a long time, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Singapore have urged Myanmar to introduce political changes.

Both Singapore and Malaysia, which have close economic ties with Myanmar, are concerned about its growing isolation.

Even the Philippines have started putting pressures, but, currently, internal problems have prevented Manila from going any further.

Under ASEAN's system of rotating chairmanship, Myanmar is scheduled to chair the organisation in 2006. But both the United States and European Union have said that that in that event they would boycott ASEAN meetings.

Other ASEAN members have being putting pressures on Yangôn to make credible political changes. They agree that these changes include freeing Aung San Suu Kyi and allowing the National league for Democracy back into the political fold. (PB)