Wed, Dec 01, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Thai prime minister urges Myanmar generals to move toward democracy

AP , VIENTIANE

Thailand yesterday told military-ruled Myanmar that it must take real steps toward democracy in the coming year, but failed to get any clarification from the junta on reports that pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest has been extended.

The US and a UN envoy also renewed calls for Suu Kyi's release in Myanmar and the restoration of democracy in the Southeast Asian nation.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who met yesterday morning with his Myanmar counterpart General Soe Win, told reporters that he called for progress in Myanmar's snail-paced national reconciliation process during the talks.

The two met on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in the Laotian capital.

In keeping with ASEAN's policy of not interfering in domestic affairs, Myanmar's politics were not discussed in formal sessions of Monday's ASEAN-only portion of the summit, but have been raised in informal talks.

Myanmar's junta has drawn international criticism for its suppression of democracy and jailing of political dissidents, becoming a source of embarrassment for ASEAN colleagues. The junta has been in power since 1988 and has refused to hand over power to Suu Kyi's party, even after it won general elections in 1990.

"We're certainly disappointed, deeply disappointed, the junta continues to ignore international calls" for Suu Kyi's release, US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington.

The junta needs "to engage the democratic opposition and ethnic minority groups in a meaningful dialogue leading to genuine national reconciliation and to the establishment of democracy," he said.

Thaksin noted that Myanmar will host the ASEAN summit in 2006.

But that's still two years away, and the situation could change by then, he said.

"One year from now you're going to see something: Something must be improved," the Thai prime minister said.

"Everybody would like to see things improved toward democracy," Thaksin said. "When they say they are moving toward democracy, that's what it should be."

He said Soe Win told him that he was not aware of the apparent extension of Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi's house arrest by one year.

The development was reported Monday by her party spokesman U Lwin, who said she was notified of the extension over the weekend.

The UN special envoy to Myanmar, Razali Ismail, also said he was not aware of any change in the status of Suu Kyi's house arrest.

"I have not been told and nor do I expect to be told," said Razali, who met with Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win in Vientiane on Saturday.

However, efforts must be made to secure the release of all political prisoners in Myanmar as soon as possible, he told reporters.

Suu Kyi was taken into custody in May last year after her motorcade was attacked by a mob supporting the ruling military junta in the country's north. She was held first in a prison, then transferred to house arrest in September last year.

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