Mahathir should match tough  actions  with tough words  and launch a new round of international pressures for Aung San Suu Kyi’s immediate release and Burmese democratization when he meets Chirac by proposing a joint ASEAN-EU strategy and roadmap for Myanmar military junta

Media Statement
y Lim Kit Siang

(PenangSunday):  Malaysian Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said yesterday that Myanmar may be expelled from ASEAN if its military rulers continue defying world pressure to release democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi although he made clear that this would only be considered as a last resort.

He said: “We  will have  to examine every avenue before we can take such drastic action.  In the end, it may have to be that way. I don’t say that it cannot be but certainly not at this moment.”

This is the first time Mahathir had used  tough words  since his major role in bringing Myanmar into  ASEAN  in 1997 during the ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur, but it may be too little and too late to influence the Myanmar military rulers  and may be as ineffective and futile as his discredited  “constructive engagement” policy with the military junta.

A serious proposal to suspend  Myanmar from the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Phnom Penh last month might have worked to force the hand of the military junta to release Aung San Suu Kyi and her associates and kickstarted the stalled tripartite dialogue among the military junta, the National League for Democracy and ethnic nationalities to restore democracy and work towards national reconciliation, but this  opportunity was missed.  I find this most  disappointing although my call at the time for the suspension of Myanmar from the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Phnom Penh unless the military junta conforms with international norms on human rights and democracy was regarded as too extreme and undiplomatic!

In the past two weeks, there had been a series of vicious commentaries in the  Myanmar state media targeting and demonizing Aung San Suu Kyi which raised fears that the military junta might be  planning to further defy international opinion and ban her party and detain her indefinitely.

Two months ago this time, the United Nations special envoy to Burma, Tan Sri Razali Ismail was brimming with confidence and optimism that he could  bring about national reconciliation in Burma in his forthcoming visit to the country.

Razali’s visit, however, proved to be an unmitigated disaster apart from the opportunity to be the only person to date outside the military regime  to have access to  Suu Kyi in re-detention.  At the end of his mission to Burma on 10th June, Razali said he expected Suu Kyi  to be released within two weeks – but the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate’s re-detention, claimed by the military junta as “temporary” and for her “protective custody”, is reaching its second month with no end in sight. 

In the circumstances, Mahathir should match tough  actions  with tough words   and launch a new round of international pressures for Aung San Suu Kyi’s immediate  release when he meets visiting French President Jacques Chirac during the latter’s  five-hour stopover in Malaysia tomorrow by proposing a joint ASEAN-EU strategy and  roadmap for Burmese democratization and national reconciliation  for the Myanmar military junta.

Malaysia must take the lead to transform  ASEAN from being the  weakest to the strongest  link in the United Nations and the international system  to pressure the Myanmar military junta to  respect international opinion and the fundamental rights of the Burmese  for democratization and national reconciliation, as it is a shame that  ASEAN should be lagging behind the rest of the world to ensure that Burma return to the mainstream of international relations by respecting democracy and human rights. 

One immediate proposal  that the Mahathir-Chirac talks tomorrow could agree on is for Malaysia to host an ASEAN-EU Conference in Malaysia in the immediate future to achieve ASEAN-EU consensus on the short, medium and long-term strategies and  measures to promote and ensure democratization and national reconciliation in Burma.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman