Mahathir’s warning two years ago that Myanmar might have to be expelled from ASEAN if its military junta continue to defy world pressure to release Aung San Suu Kyi should be serious agenda in the 38th ASEAN Summit in Putrajaya in December

Media Statement (1)
Lim Kit Siang

(Parliament, Saturday): Tomorrow, June 19, is the 60th birthday of Aung San Suu Kyi, icon of Burmese democracy and freedom who has spent  10 of past 16 years behind bars or under house arrest.

Her continued detention, as well as National League for Democracy (NLD) leaders U Tin Oo and Hkun Htun Oo and all the other political prisoners numbering some 1,350 detainees, is an intolerable embarrassment and affront to ASEAN which disqualifies Myanmar from the ASEAN Chair 2006.

All other ASEAN leaders, particularly from the ASEAN original five countries of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines and Thailand should individually and collectively speak up on the occasion of Aung San Suu Kyi’s 60th birthday-in-incarceration to remind the Myanmar military junta of its eight-year breach of its commitment when it joined ASEAN in 1997 to embark on meaningful political dialogue towards democratization and national reconciliation and the need to end its dark history of  brutal political oppression and gross human rights violations.

Former Malaysian Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, who must bear the greatest responsibility for the ASEAN admission of Myanmar in the 1997 ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur despite strong regional and international reservations and opposition, has called on the Myanmar military junta to release Aung San Suu Kyi as it should not be afraid of the ramifications of freeing the world’s only incarcerated Nobel Peace Prize recipient or making other reforms.

Mahathir said:  “I fought hard for Myanmar to be admitted into ASEAN. I think the leaders of Myanmar should consider public opinion (in support of her release) and there is nothing they have to lose.”

The 11th ASEAN Summit in Putrajaya on December 12-13, 2005  should make amends for the failure of the decision of the 1997 Kuala Lumpur ASEAN Summit in the past eight years to achieve meaningful results in the  ASEAN “constructive engagement” policy with Myanmar by undertaking a fundamental review of Myanmar’s ASEAN membership, involving at least two measures:

  • Denial of Myanmar from assuming the ASEAN 2006 Chair; and

  • Serious consideration of the public proposition by Mahathir two years ago in July 2003 of the option open to ASEAN to expel  Myanmar if its military junta continue defying world pressure to release Aung San Suu Kyi and other pro-democracy activists.

Since Mahathir’s warning that Myanmar might have to be expelled from ASEAN, the Myanmese military junta has continued for another two years to defy ASEAN and international opinion for the immediate and unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.

The latest report quoting Thai Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon that Aung San Suu Kyi might “hopefully be released from house arrest before a general election is called” and that this could be “within months” once the National Convention reconvened in November completes the task of drawing up a new constitution, is so tenuous a straw that it must be summarily rejected by all right-thinking governments, leaders and activists, as it is merely the latest appeasement effort by the Thaksin government of Thailand to “buy time” for the Myanmar military junta.

The ASEAN governments of Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Philippines should respect the stand of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) that Myanmar should not be allowed to assume the ASEAN Chair 2006 unless Aung San Suu Kyi and the other political prisoners are released and there is meaningful democratization and national reconciliation in the country.  There should be no softening of this stand, which should be formalized by the 38th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Vientiane, Laos on July  25-29, 2005.

Mahathir yesterday suggested giving Myanmar’s military rulers immunity from prosecution if they step down, saying that that was the simplest way to democratic reforms in Burma.

He said Myanmar’s generals needed to be assured that if they moved towards democracy, they would not face prosecution.

Mahathir’s proposal is supportable if this is part of a democratization package to effect power transition from the military dictatorship to democratic rule.  Malaysian Foreign Minister, Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar, should raise this issue as a Malaysian initiative at the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Laos next month to help pave the way for the long-overdue  democratization process in Burma.




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