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News from India (r)
BURMA REMAINS A SORE SPOT AFTER ASEAN ENTRY
By Christina Toh-Pantin
Kuala Lumpur, July 26: The Association of South East Asian
Nations is discovering that Burma remains an international
issue, despite its admittance to the regional grouping this
week. It was upstaged by war-racked Cambodia during the
30th anniversary meeting of Asean foreign ministers on
Thursday and Friday.
But Burma is back in the spotlight again as other Asean
countries and Rangoon's major Western critics gather for a
meeting of the Asean Regional Security Forum on Sunday and
bilateral talks between participants.
Cambodia was to have joined the group together with Burma
and Laos on Wednesday, but its entry was postponed due to
the political turmoil there. Asean also includes Brunei,
Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand
At a news briefing on Saturday with Australian foreign
affairs minister Alexander Downer, Burma was the hottest
topic. Mr Downer, who met Burmese foreign minister U Ohn
Gyaw on Friday, said he came away "disappointed" that
constitutional reform in Burma was proceeding at a very
slow pace, likening it to the speed of "glue going up a
Asean secretary general Ajit Singh had also acknowledged
what he called "technical problems" over Burma's membership
with the European Union, the United States and Canada that
had to be worked out as soon as possible.
Burma's crackdown on a pro-democracy movement and the
refusal of its generals to recognise the results of the
1990 elections won by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's
National League for Democracy have raised the ire of
Western governments as well as human rights groups.
The military government has since begun talks on
constitutional reform paving the way for elections, but
these have dragged on.Asean, which faced pressure form the
United States not to admit Burma, has said it was reassured
that Rangoon was working on constitutional reform.
"We expressed what our concerns were and what we would like
to see happen," Malaysian foreign minister Abdullah Ahmad
Badawi told reporters on Friday.
Until the eve of Burma's induction into Asean, Mr Abdullah,
who is this year's chairman of Asean, found himself
justifying the inclusion.
He said Asean believed it was more beneficial to get Burma
"into the club." Mr Abdullah said Asean believes it can
exert far more influence by "engaging the troubled member
than isolating it." (Reuter)
The Asian Age 27 July 1997
News and Information Bureau, All Burma Students League.
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