ASIA: Parliamentarians Turn Heat on Burma for Suu Kyi Trial

  • by Marwaan Macan-Markar (bangkok)
  • Thursday, May 28, 2009
  • Inter Press Service

The comments made in Singapore’s legislature during the current parliamentary session offers a window onto the growing pressure that Burma, or Myanmar, is up against from the countries that belong to the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN).

'There have been calls in Singapore’s parliament for Myanmar’s membership [in ASEAN] to be suspended,' says Charles Chong, who has been a legislator for 21 years in the ruling People’s Action Party. 'This reflects a growing frustration with Myanmar.'

Chong personally feels that the 42-year-old regional bloc, which has just transformed itself into a rules-based entity, should even consider more punitive measures. 'ASEAN should also consider doing more. We should not rule out targeted sanctions,' he said during a press conference this week in the Thai capital.

A fellow legislator from neighbouring Malaysia echoes Chong’s sentiments. 'ASEAN should seriously consider the issue of sanctions,' says Lim Kit Siang, of Malaysia’s opposition Democratic Action Party.

Both lawmakers are members of a regional caucus of parliamentarians created in 2004 to lobby for political reform and democracy in military-ruled Burma. And the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) has not shied away from strong language as a means of applying pressure on the region’s governments to achieve concrete change within the pariah in their midst.

'AIPMC parliamentarians strongly call on ASEAN to stop protecting Myanmar’s regime and instead remove them from the grouping until and unless Aung San Suu Kyi is free and genuine efforts to begin national reconciliation are underway,' the caucus declared this week in a statement.

'The AIPMC further urges ASEAN member states to consider imposing targeted sanctions on the military regime generals, and its administration, should they still fail to respect the ASEAN Charter and continue to oppress its people,' it added.

AIPMC’s members come from parliaments in six ASEAN countries: Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. The other countries in the regional bloc are Brunei, under an absolute monarchy; Laos and Vietnam, ruled by communist regimes; and Burma.

The parliamentarians’ call to suspend Burma from ASEAN stems from the on-going trial that Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi has been subject to since May 18 in Rangoon’s notorious Insein prison.

The regime has accused the 63-year-old opposition leader of violating the terms of her house arrest - now in its 13th year. If found guilty in this largely secret trial, Suu Kyi could be sentenced to a further five-year jail term.

The junta’s charge followed revelations of a bizarre tale involving a U.S. citizen who had entered Suu Kyi’s house on the banks of a lake in Burma’s former capital and stayed there for a few days as an uninvited guest earlier this month. John William Yettaw, the 53-year-old former Vietnam War veteran, had crept in by swimming across the lake.

Yettaw, a Mormon who had gone on this mission reportedly out of religious zeal, is also facing charges in the on-going trial. So are two female housekeepers of Suu Kyi.

The junta’s latest effort to oppress Suu Kyi is viewed by Burma watchers as an attempt to keep the widely popular pro-democracy icon from playing a pivotal role in a planned general election in 2010.

The junta has billed next year’s poll as a part of its 'roadmap to democracy,' even though restrictive measures have already been put into place through a new constitution approved last year under questionable circumstances, including blatant reports of fraud.

It is of little wonder why such an attempt at political reform has failed to convince a growing number of concerned countries in the international community. Foreign ministers from Asia and Europe gathered Tuesday in Hanoi for the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) issued a statement that gave the Burmese junta little room to manoeuvre.

A joint press statement by ASEM members - which happen to include Burma - appealed to the junta to lift all restrictions placed on political parties, free Suu Kyi, and release the over 2,100 political prisoners languishing in the many jails that dot the country.

For its part, the U.S. government announced that it would extend the harsh economic sanctions Washington has imposed on Burma for another year. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has also stepped into the fray, announcing plans to visit Burma, which has been under successive military regimes since a 1962 coup.

'The military regime is aware of the growing pressure and it is feeling the heat,' says Soe Aung, spokesman for the Forum for Democracy in Burma, a group of Burmese political activists living in exile. 'And it is pressure of the regime’s own making, nobody else.'

'[This] has happened when the U.S. government was talking of reviewing its sanctions policy towards Burma,' Soe Aung added during an interview. 'There is also a debate in the European Union about the sanctions the European Union may strengthen its sanctions on Burma.'

© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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