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ASEAN mission to Myanmar incomplete - Malaysia

Written by: Staff
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KUALA LUMPUR, Mar 28 (Reuters) Malaysia feels its fact-finding mission to military-ruled Myanmar is incomplete because of a failure to meet detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Malaysia's foreign minister said today.

Syed Hamid Albar visited Myanmar last week on behalf of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which is frustrated at the lack of democratic reform in Myanmar and under pressure to do something about its most awkward member.

''This is incomplete until I am able to see every stakeholder,'' Syed Hamid told reporters, confirming that Suu Kyi was one of the stakeholders he still needed to hear from.

ASEAN resolved at its summit in December to send an envoy to meet both Myanmar's ruling generals and Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy won elections in 1990 but was denied power by the junta. She has spent nine of the last 16 years behind bars or under house arrest.

Syed Hamid met the generals, who he has said dismissed Suu Kyi as having no more influence, and voiced ASEAN's position.

He said he would report back on his trip to ASEAN foreign ministers next month in Bali where the grouping would decide 3its next step.

Myanmar was moving too slowly on democracy, he said.

Asked if he wanted to try again to see Suu Kyi, he added: ''I hope there will be (another trip), that they will open up.'' Myanmar has proposed a seven-step ''roadmap to democracy'' but the military, which has ruled the former Burma since 1962, says it is still only midway through the first step, drafting a new constitution, and will not set a timetable.

The West does not treat the roadmap seriously, and Myanmar's neighbours criticise it as too vague and too slow.

Malaysia's Syed Hamid also said Myanmar would pass up its turn to chair the 10-member ASEAN grouping after the Philippines, which begins its tenure in the chair from July this year.

Pressed by its partners, Myanmar had already skipped its turn to take the chair this year, giving way for Manila.

''I asked them whether they are ready to take over ASEAN after the Philippines ... they say they will not be ready as yet because they want their capital, Naypyidaw, to be ready,'' Syed Hamid said.

The ruling junta announced last November that it was moving the nation's administrative capital to Naypyidaw, a sprawling complex secretly built in the hills near the lumber town of Pyinmana, 240 miles (385 km) north of Yangon.

ASEAN admitted Myanmar into its ranks in 1997 in hopes that engagement and investment would help bring about reform, but it admits Myanmar has instead begun to cause it embarrassment.

Until Myanmar skipped its turn to chair the grouping, ASEAN faced the prospect that meetings held in Myanmar would be shunned by the region's big trading partners, such as the United States.

REUTERS SB RAI1320

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