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Myanmar tells ASEAN it doesn't like pressure

By Staff
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Tampaksiring (Indonesia), Apr 20: Southeast Asian nations have made their views known to military-ruled Myanmar on its lack of progress towards democracy, but cannot force it to speed up the process, regional foreign ministers said today.

Myanmar, which ignored an overwhelming victory by Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy in 1990, has proposed a seven-step ''roadmap to democracy'' and the junta says step one, drafting a new constitution, is under way.

But its ASEAN neighbours think the process has been too slow and sent Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid to meet the Myanmar rulers last month.

At the end of a two-day informal meeting of ASEAN oreign ministers on the resort island of Bali, Syed Hamid said democracy in the former Burma had been discussed and was ''an issue of importance''.

''We hope there will come a day when Myanmar will be able to move to the direction other ASEAN countries are moving,'' he said, but added: ''They do not want to get interference in their domestic process.

''They have assured us that they are on track with democracy.

They don't like pressure. They like suggestions from us.'' Thai Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon said that at least Myanmar could listen to what its neighbours think.

''I think this past day, especially last night, has shown that we in ASEAN can talk openly. We were able to be frank and Myanmar has listened. It's a very healthy situation.'' ASEAN, a group known for its emphasis on consensus and non-interference in members' internal affairs, has shown rare displeasure in recent years with foot-dragging on reforms in Myanmar, ruled by the military for more than 40 years.

Criticism of Myanmar's human rights and democracy records and a reluctance of some Western countries to participate in meetings that include Myanmar have hit ASEAN's own relations with others.

At the same time some worry that pushing things too far could drive Myanmar out of ASEAN and into the arms of other nations, or into even further disregard of world opinion.

''I think there is a certain element of impatience to see some concrete step forward. But we cannot isolate Myanmar,'' ASEAN Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong told reporters yesterday.

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

REUTERS

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