Thu, Jul 24, 2003 - Page 5 News List

ASEAN to deploy delegation to seek release of Suu Kyi


ASEAN will send a delegation to Myanmar in an attempt to win the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, officials said yesterday.

The process to free the Nobel Peace Prize winner will include some gentle persuasion from Southeast Asian countries, one official said.

"We will be nagging the Myanmar junta for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi," said Blas Ople, the Philippine secretary of foreign affairs, on the sidelines of a three-day Asia-Europe summit in Bali.

Ople said an ASEAN delegation would be sent to Myanmar's capital of Yangon soon, but declined to say exactly when or elaborate on the kind of pressure the group would place on the military government.

"It is in their interest to allow a delegation from ASEAN," Ople added. "We shall await their response to our initiatives ... [We want] them to speed up the political transition to a democratic government."

Suu Kyi's May 30 arrest -- following a clash between her followers and a junta-backed mob in which at least several people were killed -- has been dominating the annual Asia-Europe Meeting, or ASEM, which brings together foreign ministers and senior officials from 25 Asian and European countries.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda said he didn't want this meeting to be "a prisoner of the Myanmar issue."

He said ASEAN would speak to Myanmar like "family" since it is part of the 10-country grouping, which also includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

European officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they have been trying to push ASEAN to act against the junta, and would not accept any proposal to include Myanmar in the Asia-Europe gathering until Suu Kyi is freed.

Wirayuda added that Myanmar would send its foreign minister, Win Aung, to Jakarta on Monday. Without elaborating, he said Indonesia was hoping for a "special message" -- apparently one bearing news of Suu Kyi's release.

Wirayuda acknowledged that ASEAN was growing "impatient" with Myanmar, saying the group was still waiting for Yangon to explain its detention of Suu Kyi and why the democratization process has been so slow.

ASEAN has a long-standing policy of non-intervention in its members' affairs but Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said last week that Myanmar could be asked to leave the grouping as a last resort if it does not release Suu Kyi.

Wirayuda said this was only Malaysia's view and not ASEAN's.

Last year's meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark, looked at the roots of terrorism and how to stamp it out.

This year's venue in Bali is only a few kilometers from the Oct. 12 terrorist bombings that killed 202 people, mostly Western tourists.

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