Fri, Nov 02, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Myanmar dissidents petition ASEAN

PRESSING ON UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari will return to Myanmar to promote talks between the government and opposition and to press for the release of those detained


Veteran Myanmar dissidents yesterday urged the ASEAN bloc of Southeast Asian nations to suspend the regime if its military rulers continue to refuse international demands for reform.

In a letter to Prime Minister Lee Hsieng Loong and Foreign Minister George Yeo of Singapore, which currently chairs ASEAN, leaders of the 88 Generation Students group urged the bloc to push the junta into talks with the opposition.

The group said Myanmar's generals must be pressured to release people who were detained after a crackdown on September's mass anti-government protests.

Officially, about 3,000 people were arrested when the junta suppressed the largest demonstrations in 20 years with the loss of 13 lives, although the real numbers are thought to be higher.

"We would request ASEAN to ... consider suspending [Myanmar's] membership in ASEAN if it continues ignoring the requests of the international community," the group wrote.

The 88 Generation group is made up of veterans of the 1988 democracy uprising that ended in bloodshed when soldiers sprayed thousands of protesters with bullets in front of Yangon's City Hall. More than 3,000 people were killed.

ASEAN has come under intense pressure to deal with Myanmar, its most unruly member.

In the past, the grouping has been reluctant to address criticism of the regime, citing a policy of not interfering in the internal matters of its members.

Meanwhile, UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari will return to Myanmar tomorrow to promote talks between the government and the opposition and to press for the release of all those detained after September's crackdown, the UN chief said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Wednesday that he would meet Gambari in Istanbul, Turkey, this morning to discuss strategies and stressed that the UN envoy's upcoming visit "will have to bring substantively different results."

Ban sent Gambari to Myanmar after the government crackdown on peaceful protesters in late September and he met early last month with junta leader Senior General Than Shwe. He also met twice with detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Soon after he left, the government appointed retired Major General Aung Kyi as liaison minister for talks with Suu Kyi, under a UN-brokered attempt by Gambari to nudge her and the military junta toward reconciliation. They met last week, which Gambari welcomed, but he called it "only the first step," saying it "should lead to early resumption of talks that will lead to tangible results."

Ban told reporters Wednesday: "Our goal is that he will facilitate this dialogue between the government and opposition leaders, and do more -- the democratic measures by the Myanmar government including the release of all detained students and demonstrators and open up their society as soon as possible."

Gambari has been on a six-nation Asian tour, discussing the situation in Myanmar and urging support from key countries for national reconciliation and a stepped-up transition to democracy in the military-ruled country.

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