Fri, Jul 29, 2005 - Page 9 News List

No progress likely if Myanmar is left out in the cold, analysts say

AFP , BANGKOK

A successful campaign by the US and Europe to persuade Myanmar to forego next year's chairmanship of ASEAN could result in the military regime becoming even more repressive and isolationist, analysts say.

According to observers in Yangon, the fact Myanmar decided to back down after Washington and Brussels put heavy pressure on ASEAN marks an illusory victory and won't serve the cause of democratization.

The Western threats to boycott regional meetings had the bloc been headed by Yangon, a renowned human-rights abuser, risks disengaging the country from democracy.

"What I fear, now that the issue has been settled, is that they will only do what they want to do," one Western diplomat said. "Maybe they are not unhappy; after all they'll be left alone."

`SHRINK INWARD'

"They will shrink inward in all aspects: the national convention, the ethnic minorities, the lady [detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi] and even NGOs and international organizations," he predicted.

Officially, the excuse made to ASEAN partners to relinquish the chair next year was to "focus attention" on the national convention -- the constitution-drafting assembly that is the first step in the junta's self-proclaimed roadmap to democracy.

Also saying they were "too busy" with the national convention, Myanmar's generals have refused since March last year to open their doors to Razali Ismail, the special envoy of UN chief Kofi Annan, or to UN human-rights special rapporteur Paulo Sergio Pinheiro since November 2003.

By renouncing the chairmanship, a function that would have allowed it to play a role in the region, Myanmar is effectively signaling it is not prepared to make the political changes asked of it and that it will go on holding Aung San Suu Kyi for as long as it sees fit.

The Nobel peace laureate has been under house arrest for more than two years, and the military regime is still holding more than 1,100 political prisoners.

At the same time, the junta has shown signs of tightening the screws after former prime minister Khin Nyunt, the most senior general to favor a dialogue with Suu Kyi, was ousted in a purge last October.

Myanmar is making life more difficult for UN agencies in Yangon, as well as for non-governmental organizations who find it harder to work in the field as their travel becomes more restricted, according to several sources.

"Perhaps it was a lost opportunity," a second Yangon-based diplomat said.

Myanmar's decision to bow out, which pleased Europe and was welcomed by the US, brought to a sputtering end months of tension and division over ASEAN's leadership.

WARNING

But shortly before the junta's decision to pass on the chair was made public, the diplomat noted, East Timorese Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta warned in Laos that he did "not believe that ... diplomatic isolation of Myanmar is going to help change the situation."

ASEAN Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong said as much last month: "The downside ... is that if Myanmar voluntary steps out of the chairmanship, it means for the next two to three years, the issue is out of the radarscope," he said.

"How are we going to leverage for the early release of Aung San Suu Kyi and whatever things we want in Myanmar?" he asked.

The junta has been having steadily decreasing contact with the world community.

"There won't be many people left to be able to speak with them," the first diplomat said.

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