ASEAN lawmakers to demand Myanmar' suspension if Suu Kyi is not freed

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Lawmakers from five countries members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) said they will push their governments to suspend Myanmar from the regional bloc if it fails to release opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners within a year.

Legislators from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand want their governments to set a September 2006 deadline for Myanmar to release Ms Suu Kyi from house arrest, said Teresa Kok, secretary of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Caucus on Democracy in Myanmar.  "This is the minimum requirement we want from Myanmar," she said.

The decision was reached last week at a meeting in Bangkok, where lawmakers insisted that ASEAN should strengthen efforts to push Myanmar towards democracy because, as Ms Kok said, there has been "no sign of concrete steps toward national reconciliation" since Myanmar announced in July it would forgo the 2006 ASEAN chair.

Such a decision, the military junta said, would allow it to focus on political reform and reconciliation with Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy. But observers believe the move was designed to save embarrassment and a punishing boycott of its meetings by the United States and Europe, the region's close trading partners.

The lawmakers' coalition plans to meet officials from the EU and the UN over the next few months to step up pressure on Myanmar ahead of the grouping's annual summit in Kuala Lumpur in December.

The 10 ASEAN nations typically follow a policy of non-interference in each other's domestic affairs and resistance to foreign pressure. But Myanmar's neighbours have voiced hopes that the junta, which seized power in 1988, would allow an elected government to take over.

The junta last held elections in 1990, but refused to hand over power when Ms Suu Kyi's party won.

Along with Ms Suu Kyi, who has spent more than half of the past 16 years in detention and whose current time under house arrest began in May 2003, more than 1,000 political prisoners are believed to be in jail.