Fri, Mar 24, 2006 - Page 5 News List

ASEAN envoy visits Myanmar

OFFICIAL MONITOR Malaysia's foreign minister will inspect the country's progress on democratic reforms and is also likely to meet opposition members

AP , KUALA LUMPUR

Malaysia's foreign minister traveled to Myanmar yesterday as Southeast Asia's envoy to monitor claims of democratic reforms by the country's military rulers, officials said.

Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar planned to stay in Yangon from yesterday to tomorrow, accompanied by several senior officials of the Malaysian foreign ministry, a government statement said.

The visit is meant to "obtain first-hand information on the progress of the implementation of the reconciliation [with the opposition] and democratization process in Myanmar," the statement said.

Syed Hamid departed yesterday on a Malaysian government plane from an air force airstrip, a foreign ministry official said on condition of anonymity, saying he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

The government statement said Syed Hamid will hold discussions with leaders of Myanmar and "various representatives in the reconciliation and democratization process."

This implied that he will meet with representatives of the opposition National League for Democracy party of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

But it didn't say if he will get to see Suu Kyi, who is currently under house arrest.

Syed Hamid's trip as an envoy of the ASEAN was originally scheduled for January, but has been postponed several times by Myanmar's military rulers for various reasons.

Syed Hamid will brief ASEAN foreign ministers about his trip during their April 17-18 retreat in Bali, Indonesia, the Malaysian statement said.

After intense pressure from its neighbors, Myanmar agreed at an ASEAN summit in December to allow Syed Hamid to visit and verify the ruling junta's claims -- questioned by the US and EU -- that the country is making progress toward democracy.

The junta cites a continuing process to draft a constitution as an example of progress, but critics dismiss it as a sham because Suu Kyi's party is not involved.

ASEAN has been chided by the West for not pressing Myanmar's military -- in power since 1962 -- to restore civilian rule.

Yesterday, the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus, comprising lawmakers of the region, urged Myanmar's junta to "unconditionally release all political prisoners including Suu Kyi."

It also expressed concern at the reports of the killing of a former political prisoner, Thet Naing Oo, by municipal officials and firefighters in a Yangon marketplace last Friday.

The incident demonstrates that violence against pro-democracy activists is "rampantly occurring in the military-ruled country," the caucus said in a statement.

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