By Zin Linn
People of Burma (Myanmar) have debated on the country’s attempt to become chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) since Senior ASEAN officials meeting in May in Jakarta. Most citizens do not hope for the country’s chairmanship in ASEAN because there are still hundreds of political prisoners in its jails and also the civil war in Kachin State is going on with lots of human rights violations.
However, President Thein Sein-led namesake civilian government of Burma is eager to gain ASEAN’s backing. Recognition as chair of the organization would definitely provide them important credit. Burma under the former military junta missed out its turn as chair of ASEAN in 2006 because of strong international objections led by Western countries. Burma was forced to skip its turn in 2006 because of its human rights record.
Jakarta-based ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) released a press statement dated June 17, 2011 calling for urgent peace talks in Burma and reliable action by ASEAN. AIPMC strongly condemns the decision by the Thein Sein government to dispatch heavily armed troops into Kachin State and the concomitant outbreak of fighting, which brings an end to a 17-year ceasefire between the government and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
The major demand by the AIPMC is that Indonesian FM and chairman of ASEAN, Marty Natalegawa, together with other ASEAN leaders reject Burma’s application to chair ASEAN in 2014 since it fails to start genuine steps for change.
On the contrary, on Thursday, ASEAN leaders have agreed to give their blessing to military-dominated Burma to lead their regional bloc in 2014. The chairmanship of ASEAN is fabricated to take turns annually among its 10 member countries.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa told reporters that leaders agreed Thursday that Burma could chair ASEAN in 2014.
A communiqué issued at the end of the MAY 7-8 ASEAN leaders’ summit in Jakarta said: “We considered the proposal of Myanmar (Burma) that it would host the ASEAN summits in 2014, in view of its firm commitment to the principles of ASEAN.”
It also emphasized that ASEAN leaders supported the “steady progress and political developments in Myanmar” after it held general elections and formed a new government in March, calling the ballot “successful.” But, ASEAN leaders overlook the true story about the November 7 election, which unfairly allowed the junta-backed party to rig the votes.
The election, Burma’s first in 20 years, was severely criticized by the opposition and critics in the West as undemocratic.
On the other hand, the National League for Democracy party led by Burma’s Nobel laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, welcomed the predictable approval on Thursday of Burma’s bid to chair Southeast Asia’s regional bloc in 2014, saying it would boost political change in the inaccessible nation.
Although there are bad human rights records, Southeast Asian foreign ministers on Wednesday supported Burma’s bid to chair the association at their summit on the Indonesian island of Bali.
According to a Reuters’ news, Nyan Win, a spokesman of the National League for Democracy said, “Their decision is tantamount to encouraging the present Burmese government to step up the momentum for reforms,”
“I think that Burma’s political activities will become more vibrant after assuming the chair and Burma will also become a quality member of Asean,” he added.
Southeast Asian leaders have no objection to Burma or Myanmar’s request to chair the 10-member ASEAN bloc in 2014, as long as it continues making progress towards democracy, Indonesia’s president said on 8 May after the group’s previous summit.
“ASEAN leaders do not object in principle,” Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said at his closing news conference. “But Myanmar, which is a focus of world attention, is expected to continue progress on democracy so when it becomes chair it does not generate negative views.”
Now, ASEAN leaders have offered the chair to Burma (Myanmar) in 2014. As a result, they should urge Thein Sein government to stop the unjust war on the ethnic people. They ought to take facilitator role to stop the civil war in Burma. In this civil war, Burmese soldiers have been committing lots of crimes – lootings, rapes, burning villages, destroying crops, killing innocent ethnic villagers, forced-labor and forced conscription.
Furthermore, the Thein Sein government still detains several hundred political prisoners including important ethnic leaders. To take the ASEAN chair, Burma must not keep political prisoners who really are committing no crime but expose their political beliefs.
So, all ASEAN-member countries must be very cautious to watch over Burma until the fundamental benchmarks for its chairmanship are carried out before 2014.