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ASEAN and the international community must not allow Myanmar military junta to again indulge in “one step forwards, two three steps backwards” tactics to deflect international pressures for democratization in Burma

2008 Budget Debate Speech          
by Lim Kit Siang  

(Parliament, Tuesday): The United Nations Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar Sergio Pinheiro is now in Burma surveying the human rights situation in the country, and according to reports, visited the infamous Insein jail outside Yangon.

Last week, the United Nations Secretary-General’s special advisor on Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari made his second visit to the country after the crackdown of the “saffron revolution” in September.

What is shocking and outrageous is up to now, neither ASEAN nor the international community know what was the death toll and how many people were detained in the junta’s bloody suppression of the pro-democracy “saffron revolution”.

The Myanmar military junta claims 10 people died and only 91 of the 3,000 originally detained were being held.

Nobody believes these figures – as the death toll from the “saffron revolution” is believed to be in scores if not in hundreds. Monks have reported that at least five of their brethren were killed. Amnesty International has estimated that 700 people arrested over the September protests are still in detention.

Although the Myanmar military junta has recently shown a more accommodating face, as in permitting Aung San Suu Kyi, who had spent 12 of the past 18 years under house arrest, to meet key members of her National League for Democracy (NLD), the question is whether the Myanmar military junta is indulging in its favorite tactics of “one step forward, two three steps backwards” as part of its long-standing diversionary tactics to deflect international criticism and maintain its grip on power.

The Myanmese military junta resorted to such tactics of “one step forward, two three steps backwards” in 2005 when Tan Sri Razali Ismail was the UN envoy for Burma, when he seemed to making progress in brokering talks between Suu Kyi and the generals.

Razali was very optimistic that Burma was finally embarking on the process of democratization and national reconciliation. When I asked him at the time the timeline he was looking at, Razali said he expected the process of democratization and national reconciliation to reach a climax in 2006, with general election to be held in Myanmar.

These hopes have all proved to be completely illusory.

Gambari’s recent return to Myanmar has evoked mixed feelings, as in this commentary from an expert Burma analyst and observer, Larry Jagan:

Privately, however, UN officials admit his visit was anything but a success. Gambari remained a virtual prisoner in the new Myanmar capital Naypyitaw, situated 400 kilometers north of the previous capital Yangon. He spent only a few hours in Yangon, from where he entered and exited the country. "The regime kept him there because they feared his presence in [Yangon] might spark fresh protests," a Bangkok-based diplomat who covers Myanmar said.

To add insult to injury, Gambari met very few members of the government - and notably none of its top leaders. "Than Shwe did not want to see Gambari and used his usual delaying tactic - using low-ranking ministers as shields to avoid meeting him," said Win Min, the academic.

Members of the Malaysian Parliamentary Caucus and the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) have met with Gambri and Pinheiro to discuss the Myanmar situation, and we do not want to see a replay of the Myanmar military junta’s diversionary tactics of “One step forward, two three steps backwards”.

The 13th ASEAN Summit in Singapore next week where the ASEAN Charter is to be signed must provide a mechanism to ensure that there is no backsliding of the democratization and national reconciliation process by the Myanmar military junta.

ASEAN nations, together with international community must not allow Myanmar military junta to again indulge in “one step forwards, two three steps backwards” tactics to deflect international pressures for democratization in Burma, or the option of targeted sanctions of the Myanmar generals must be considered.

I call on the Singapore ASEAN Summit next week to give “teeth” to the ASEAN Charter by appointing a Human Rights Rapporteur or Monitor to ensure that ASEAN member nations and in particular Myanmar respect the human rights commitments enunciated in the ASEAN Charter.

The ASEAN nations, working with China, India, the European Union and other important players of the international community, should put pressure on the Myanmar military junta to immediately release the over 1,000 political prisoners in Burma, especially Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Aung San Suu Kyi should be officially invited to the next major ASEAN meeting to discuss the important issue of democratization and national reconciliation in Burma.



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

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