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Indonesia offers to help Myanmar to democracy

Written by: Staff

YANGON, March 2 (Reuters) Indonesia, which emerged from a long era of military dominated government only eight years ago, has told Myanmar's ruling generals they must move towards democracy and offered to help, officials said today.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono made the call in two meetings with junta chief Than Shwe, who promised to follow through on a seven-step ''roadmap to democracy'', they said.

''President Yudhoyono explained Indonesia's experiences and offered his preparedness to assist Myanmar in democratisation and national reconciliation,'' former Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas told Reuters.

''The Myanmar leader welcomed our offer and explained to our president their seven-point political roadmap in detail,'' said Alatas, who was present at the meetings yesterday soon after Yudhoyono arrived.

But few details emerged on how quickly the military, which has ruled the former Burma in one guise or another since a 1962 coup, would move on a programme they announced in 2003.

They are still on the first step, a constitutional conference which critics say is designed to produce a document which will cement the military in power.

The conference, adjourned in January and not due to reconvene until the end of the year, is being boycotted by the main opposition party because its leader, democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, is under house arrest.

NO SUU KYI MEETING Yudhoyono, due to head back to Jakarta today, would not meet Suu Kyi, who has been in detention since her latest arrest in May 2003, Alatas said. ''Our stay here is very short and we have no time for it,'' he said.

The secretive junta has upset fellow members of the 10-strong Association of South East Asian Nations, one of the few international groupings which will have Myanmar as a member, by foot-dragging on freeing Suu Kyi and on political reform.

Presidential spokesman Dino Patti Djalal told Jakarta-based Radio Elshinta in an interview that Indonesia, which freed itself of three decades of autocratic rule in 1998, understood Myanmar's difficulties.

''This is not a situation in which we come to a country and lecture them and demand this and that,'' he said.

''If Indonesia can help this democratisation process, we will do it smoothly and properly with ways that can open doors, not seal them,'' he said.

But, he said, Yudhoyono stressed ''advancing democracy is absolutely imperative''.

Yudhoyono, whose government has been one of the toughest critics of Myanmar's junta, is a former general himself who won Indonesia's first direct presidential election in 2004 and has championed civilian supremacy over the armed forces.

Last year, other ASEAN members forced Myanmar to forgo its scheduled 2006 chairmanship of the group. Jakarta said in January the generals' foot-dragging had hurt regional stability.

Reuters KD GC0946

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