ASEAN ministers demand democracy in Myanmar

Southeast Asian foreign ministers on Friday demanded that Myanmar quickly carry out democratic reforms and free opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, expressing the bloc's growing frustration with the country's military junta. Foreign ministers of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations made clear their exasperation with member nation Myanmar at an annual meeting in Kuala Lumpur, said host Malaysia's Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar.

Military-ruled Myanmar has pledged to allow democracy, as demanded by its neighbors under strong pressure from the U.S. and other Western powers, which most Southeast Asian nations are loathe to alienate for fear of losing key trade benefits.

But the junta has failed, so far, to fulfill that pledge or meet demands to free pro-democracy leader Suu Kyi, and ASEAN members have become increasingly critical of Myanmar in public remarks, despite the bloc's traditional policy of noninterference in each other's internal affairs.

Syed Hamid said that his Myanmar counterpart, Nyan Win, gave no indication when pro-democracy leader Suu Kyi would be freed. She has been under continuous detention for more than two years. Her house arrest was extended by six months last week.

The foreign ministers, meeting before their leaders summit on Monday and Tuesday, discussed the "need for Myanmar to be more responsive to the wishes of the international community," Syed Hamid said.

He said there "should be some tangible movement" in the junta's self-proclaimed road map to democracy, which has achieved little in the last one year. "Even though it is an internal affair of Myanmar (the junta) itself must be able to show us movement in respect of the road map as well as on the position of Aung San Suu Kyi," he said.

Otherwise, he said, Myanmar's position would become indefensible in ASEAN, which has faced pressure and criticism from the West for doing little to force change in Myanmar.

ASEAN is willing to work with Myanmar, but the junta "has also got to take steps that will ensure confidence and create credibility," Syed Hamid said.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Hasan Wirayuda said the ministers "were critical enough" of Myanmar during their discussions. Myanmar in July agreed to relinquish its scheduled chairmanship of ASEAN for 2006, saying that it would focus its attention on its democratization process. The ASEAN chairmanship will instead go to next-in-line Philippines.

The junta reopened a constitutional convention on Monday to set guidelines for a new constitution as part of a process that it says will eventually lead to free elections. However, the process has been greeted with skepticism since the convention doesn't include Suu Kyi's party, reports the AP. I.L.

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