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'Suspend Myanmar from Asean'

Remnant dissidents ask ASEAN members to step up pressure on the Junta to start a political dialogue with opposition forces.

world Updated: Nov 01, 2007 11:00 IST

Myanmar dissidents on Thursday urged the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) to suspend Myanmar's membership if the country's leadership continued to ignore international calls for launching a meaningful national reconciliation process.

Leaders of the 88 Generation Students -- remnant dissidents from the 1988 anti-military movement in Myanmar -- issued a letter to Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsein Loong and Foreign Minister George Yeo urging Asean to take steps to increase pressure on Myanmar's military to start a political dialogue with opposition forces.

Singapore is the current chairman of Asean, and will host the group's annual summit and preparatory talks on November 17-23. Myanmar, also known as Burma, joined Asean in 1997 and has proven a growing embarrassment for the regional grouping.

Asean, which has generally maintained a stance of non-interference with internal affairs of any member country, was forced to denounce Myanmar's crackdown on peaceful monk-led demonstrations September 26-27 that outraged world opinion.

But the 88 Generation Students group said Asean needs to do more to bring Myanmar State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) -- as the Junta styles itself -- to the negotiating table with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other opponents of the regime.

The 88 Generation group, that has lost 40 of its members to arrests between August and September, called on Asean to "consider suspending the SPDC membership in Asean if it continues to ignore the requests of the international community".

Asean includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

The dissident group also called on Asean to reject SPDC's constitution-drafting process, to back the efforts of United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari and to stop selling weapons and intelligence technology to the regime.

The 88 Generation letter, made available in Bangkok, was signed by Tun Myint Aung, Nilar Thein, and Soe Htun.

Meanwhile, in New York, the UN announced that Gambari would go to Myanmar Saturday and would remain until Nov 8.

UN spokesperson Michelle Montas said Gambari would meet Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in Istanbul Saturday to discuss his work before proceeding to Myanmar.

"During his forthcoming visit to Myanmar, Mr. Gambari will follow up on his offer to facilitate implementation of the recommendations made to the government during his last mission," said Montas.

The recommendations include immediate steps to address human rights concerns following the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations and a "framework for meaningful and time-bound dialogue between the government and Suu Kyi as a necessary part of an inclusive national reconciliation process".

Other topics of discussion include confidence-building measures, popular participation in discussion on a new constitution and a campaign to end poverty.

Gambari will meet a "broad range" of representatives in Myanmar society, who he had not been able to talk to when he visited the country in September. He did have two meetings with Suu Kyi -- leader of the opposition National League for Democracy, who has spent more than 10 years under house arrest due to her fight for democracy.

First Published: Nov 01, 2007 10:48 IST