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Myanmar report tops SE Asian minister meeting

By Staff
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UBUD, Indonesia, Apr 19: A report on democratisation in Myanmar will be the top subject of talks during a two-day informal meeting of Southeast Asian foreign ministers, officials and analysts said today.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar, who visited Myanmar last month as an envoy of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), is expected to share his experiences inside the group's most criticised member with his counterparts in their retreat on Indonesia's holiday island of Bali.

''I think Foreign Minister Albar will make a report so we would wait for that. One will only know after we have heard or read the report,'' Philippine Foreign Minister Alberto Romulo said before the ministers started their get-together in Bali's artisan hillside town of Ubud.

Shortly before Syed Hamid flew to Bali yesterday, he said Myanmar has become an issue hanging over ASEAN and Yangon should show more progress in bringing about democracy in a country under army rule for more than 40 years.

Myanmar has proposed a seven-step ''roadmap to democracy'' and the military junta says step one, drafting a new constitution, is still underway. Its ASEAN neighbours think the process has been too slow and sent Syed Hamid to meet the Myanmar rulers.

The meeting was limited to Myanma ministers and Syed Hamid was barred from seeing detained democratic icon Aung San Suu Kyi, whose victory in 1990 elections was annulled by the junta.

The failure to meet Suu Kyi meant the trip was ''incomplete'', Syed Hamid said after returning to Malaysia.

''The foreign ministers are disappointed (that) when Syed Hamid went to Myanmar, there's no chance to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, Than Shwe and other people,'' ASEAN Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong told reporters today.

Than Shwe is the top general in the junta, which last year ordered the government to move to a hastily built new capital called Pyinmana, a fortified compound deep in the jungle 400 km north of Yangon.

A CERTAIN IMPATIENCE

Key players in ASEAN, a grouping known for its emphasis on consensus and principles of non-interference in members' internal affairs, have shown rare displeasure in recent years with the foot-dragging reforms in Myanmar.

''I think there is a certain element of impatience to see some concrete step forward. But we cannot isolate Myanmar,'' Ong said, adding China and India, non-ASEAN members that border Myanmar, also needed to be involved in reform negotiations.

ASEAN members Laos and Thailand are Myanmar's other immediate neighbours.

In front of troops on parade in the new capital Pyinmana three weeks ago, junta leader Than Shwe argued a hurried shift to democracy would fuel ethnic tensions and tear Myanmar apart.

Some analysts speculate Myanmar might grow tired with the criticism from its neighbours over democracy and human rights issues and choose to quit ASEAN.

''When it was pressed, the leadership went to the jungle. If it leaves ASEAN, it will be no good and it will entirely enter the sphere of influence of China and India,'' said Centre for Strategic and International Studies analyst Hadi Soesastro after meeting Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda today.

Apart from Myanmar, ASEAN also groups Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Brunei, Cambodia and Laos.

REUTERS

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