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Asian and western ministers criticise Myanmar

india Updated: Jul 29, 2006 12:45 IST

Asian and western foreign ministers censured Myanmar on Friday over its failure to fulfil promised democratic reforms, delivering a final reproach in a week that saw the military regime pummelled by criticism from fellow Southeast Asian nations.

The ministers of the ASEAN Regional Forum, including US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, chastised Myanmar in their statement, urging the military junta to show "tangible progress that would lead to peaceful transition to democracy in the near future."

They also reiterated their call for the release of political detainees, referring to but not naming detained pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, whose freedom has been demanded by the international community.

Rice said Washington was seeking a UN Security Council resolution to highlight the world's condemnation of the Myanmar junta's activities, particularly its continued detention of Nobel laureate Suu Kyi.

She praised the conservative 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations for issuing a critical statement against member Myanmar earlier this week.

The group had made "an important evolution" in dealing with Myanmar's junta, Rice said, repeating calls for the immediate release of Suu Kyi.

"The statement like the one ASEAN has made on Burma is an important evolution of the ASEAN position," Rice said, referring to Myanmar by its old name.

"Members of ASEAN have spoken quite clearly about the need for the junta to make political reform and that Aung San Suu Kyi should be released, and released unconditionally," she said.

While most ASEAN members back the censure of Myanmar, a few allies of the military regime like Laos and Vietnam favour a friendlier approach.

The ministers' statement dropped a criticism of Myanmar for its cool reception to a recent visit by Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar.

Syed Hamid went to Myanmar as an ASEAN envoy in March but was not allowed to meet with Suu Kyi. Myanmar junta leader Senior Gen Than Shwe also did not meet Syed Hamid.

Held annually, the ARF has brought together the 10 countries in ASEAN and 15 other Asian and Western countries plus a European Union representative. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka were ushered in as new members on Friday.

Myanmar rejected US officials' statement that the issue of democratic reforms in the country "was getting out of hand" and should be included on the agenda of the UN Security Council.

"We do not pose a threat to anybody. There are many other dangerous situations in the world," said Thaung Tun, a member of the Myanmar delegation in Kuala Lumpur meetings.

While ASEAN countries call for democratic reforms in Myanmar, they do not think that the country is a threat to international community, Syed Hamid said.

"There is no consensus within ASEAN to say that Myanmar is a threat to international peace and security," he said.

Myanmar's foreign minister indicated on Thursday that his military government will announce by the end of the year its likely schedule for drafting a Constitution -- touted as the first step in its road map to democracy.

But minister Nyan Win sidestepped questions on when the junta will hold elections to restore multiparty democracy.

Critics have dismissed the National Convention as a sham because Suu Kyi's party is not attending.

Myanmar's military junta took power in 1988 after crushing a pro-democracy movement. In 1990, it refused to hand over power when Suu Kyi's political party won a landslide victory in general elections.

Suu Kyi has spent about 11 of the last 17 years in detention.

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