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Malaysia says Myanmar holding ASEAN hostage

Malaysia's Foreign Minister said that Myanmar is holding Southeast Asia, hampering progress and bringing the region into disrepute.

india Updated: Apr 18, 2006 13:59 IST

Military-run Myanmar is holding Southeast Asia hostage, hampering progress and bringing the region into disrepute, Malaysia's Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said on Tuesday.

"What is happening in Myanmar is affecting us. People are saying that ASEAN could not play a role of bringing Myanmar to move towards democracy," Syed Hamid told reporters.

"At present people tend to question us when we say we are engaging in constructive engagement," he added.

Syed Hamid visited Myanmar last month as an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) envoy amid increasing unease over the ASEAN member's lack of democratic reforms, but was barred from seeing detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Syed Hamid, who will brief ASEAN foreign ministers at their meeting on the Indonesian island of Bali on Thursday, said Myanmar's ruling generals must provide proof of their claims that they are shifting away from four decades of military rule.

"In order to talk on their behalf, we need to have a stronger and more credible story to tell. More tangible or visible action has to be taken by the Myanmar side," he said.

But Syed Hamid insisted ASEAN, which has resisted US efforts to refer Myanmar to the UN Security Council, still had a role to play in mediating with the military junta.

"We do not want the issue of Myanmar to become the subject of the Security Council. But Myanmar must show what they are doing. And we need to see for ourselves so we can talk convincingly and with credibility," he said.

The minister said the United Nations had decided not to replace its special envoy to Myanmar, Malaysian Razali Ismail, who quit the post earlier this year.

But Syed Hamid said he hoped to visit Myanmar again and renew efforts to help the country. "If you want to play a role ... positive results cannot come from just one visit," he said.

While Southeast Asian governments are growing openly impatient over the Myanmar issue, they say there is no mechanism to eject the region's black sheep from the grouping.

"We do not want any ASEAN member to decide that it will leave ASEAN, that is not a solution. We do not want Myanmar isolating itself," Syed Hamid was quoted as saying by the Star newspaper Tuesday, although adding that ASEAN was being "held hostage" by Myanmar's recalcitrance.

The military regime has spelled out a "road map" for democracy, including talks on a new constitution. But Aung San Suu Kyi's party has boycotted the process, which critics have called a sham.

The military crushed pro-democracy demonstrations in 1988 and two years later rejected the result of national elections won by Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party.

Aung San Suu Kyi, whose house arrest was extended in December, has spent most of the last 16 years in detention.

First Published: Apr 18, 2006 13:59 IST