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ASEAN nations must make amends for giving legitimacy and helping the military junta to consolidate its rule in Burma resulting in the bloody repression of the “saffron revolution” 19 years after the 1988 carnage

Speech at public forum “Burma – Road to Democracy”
by Lim Kit Siang  

(Kuala Lumpur, Monday) : Foreign Minister, Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar yesterday called on the military junta in Myanmar to begin immediate talks with pre-democracy supporters led by Aung San Suu Kyi to discuss the future of Myanmar before the international community “piles on the pressure”.


While Hamid’s call is welcome, the question must be asked as to what ASEAN is doing to pressure the Myanmar military junta to conduct itself not only as a responsible member of the international community but also of ASEAN in terms of the most minimal respect for human rights and democratic freedoms for its people.


After admitting Myanmar as a member for a decade, ASEAN cannot just wash its hands of any responsibility for what had happened in Burma and just “pass the buck” to the international community to “pile up the pressure”.


Since the brutal and violent repression of the “saffron revolution” two weeks ago, ASEAN government leaders have been using stronger language than before against the Myanmar military junta, starting with the expression of “revulsion” by the ASEAN foreign ministers at the United Nations over the killings and suppression of the monks-led peaceful protests.


Just stronger language however is grossly inadequate to the brutal and bloody crackdown of the monks-led peaceful protests in Burma if it is not matched with action.


The Myanmar military junta was admitted into ASEAN ten years ago in the teeth of regional and international opposition on the ground that the ASEAN constructive engagement policy with the Myanmar military junta would pave the way for national reconciliation and democratization in Burma.


In the past ten years, the ASEAN constructive engagement policy has turned out to be a one-way unconditional engagement with the Myanmar military junta, yielding no results whatsoever. It has now been totally discredited by the violent repression of the “saffron revolution”, with troops quashing the peaceful protests with gunfire.


The military junta said 10 people were killed, but dissident groups put the death toll at up to 200, with some accounts in four-figure numbers, and with as many as 6,000 people detained. There is now a reign of terror in Burma.


ASEAN must not shirk from its responsibility for the violent repression of peaceful protests in Burma, for by admitting the Myanmar military junta as a member ten years ago, ASEAN had given legitimacy and helped the military junta to consolidate its rule resulting in the bloody repression of the “saffron revolution” – 19 years after the 1988 carnage.


ASEAN is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and the 13th ASEAN Summit will be held in Singapore next month. A top priority of the Singapore ASEAN Summit should be a post-mortem on the failure of the ASEAN constructive engagement policy with the Myanmar military junta to pave the way for national reconciliation and democratization in Burma and how ASEAN can make amends for such a failure which as resulted in greater sufferings for the people of Burma.


Steps to make amends for such a failure should include the options of expulsion or suspension of Myanmar from ASEAN.


There are horror stories from Burma about military atrocities, of one hundred shot dead outside a Burmese school and activists burned alive at government crematoriums. These horror stories are filling Burmese blogs and dissident sites but the tight security of the repressive regime has made it impossible to verify how many people are dead, detained or missing.


ASEAN should send high-level fact-finding mission to Myanmar to ascertain the latest situation as it concerns not only Myanmar but also affects the credibility and legitimacy of ASEAN as a whole.


If the Myanmar military junta is not prepared to allow such an ASEAN fact-finding mission, then what is the justification for its continuing membership in ASEAN?


Another measure for Malaysia and the other ASEAN countries as part of making amends for the ten-year failure of the constructive engagement policy resulting in greater hardships and sufferings to the people of Burma is to accord special refugee status to all Burmese of all ethnicities in their respective countries and to stop persecuting them as illegal immigrants.



* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman

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