Burma’s bid for ASEAN chair hangs in the balance
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Burma’s bid for ASEAN chair hangs in the balance

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been considering granting military-led Myanmar (Burma) the chair of the grouping in 2014, despite grave concerns about human rights violations and a bogus democratic system.

Senior ASEAN officials meeting in May in Jakarta said Burma had sought the chair of the 10-nation bloc in 2014, when communist Laos was due to take the job. At the meeting, the Laotian officials said that they would not mind switching with Burma in 2014. Cambodia and Brunei will take the ASEAN chair in 2012 and 2013 respectively.

The President Thein Sein-led namesake civilian government of Burma is keen to gain ASEAN’s backing. Acceptance as chair of the organization would definitely provide them crucial recognition. Burma under the former military junta missed out its turn as chair of ASEAN in 2006 because of strong international objections led by Western countries.

On October 14 Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said that he would visit Burma at the end of this month to evaluate the country’s reform, according to the Jakarta Globe.

Burma is seeking to be the chair of the 10–member Association of South–East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2014, but an answer to the proposal has been postponed during an assessment of its development towards democratization. The journey is likely to be part of a fact-finding task to verify if Burma ready to take the chairmanship of ASEAN in 2014. Indonesia is the current chair of ASEAN.

As Natalegawa embarks on his assessment mission to Burma this week, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP) based in the Thai-Burma border areas has has objected to Burma’s ASEAN bid.


Marty Natalegawa is to visit Burma this week. Pic: AP.

Speaking at a press conference in Bangkok today, Bo Kyi,  Joint-Secretary of AAPP, said that although government freed 237 political prisoners on October 12, there are still more than 1,700 political prisoners in Burma’s notorious prisons.

The fate of the detained political prisoners are uncertain because there is evidence of using inmates as porters in the battleground in ethnic states, Bo Kyi said.

During the press conference, Burma Partnership coordinator Khin Ohmar said President Thein Sein’s government needs to make more steps towareds democracy. Burma’s chairmanship turn will come in 2016, and there will be next election in 2015, she said. Hence, the government should first show the next election is free and fair before taking the chair.

Jakarta-based ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) released a press statement dated June 17, 2011 calling for urgent peace talks in Burma and reliable action by ASEAN. AIPMC strongly condemns the decision by the Thein Sein government to dispatch heavily armed troops into Kachin State and the concomitant outbreak of fighting, which brings an end to a 17-year  ceasefire between the government and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

The major demand by the AIPMC is that Indonesian FM and chairman of ASEAN, Marty Natalegawa, together with other ASEAN leaders reject Burma’s application to chair ASEAN in 2014 since it fails to start genuine steps for change.