July 23rd, 2006, 01:17 PM
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Malaysia...in reversal, condemns Myanmar
Malaysia, in reversal, condemns Myanmar
By Wayne Arnold International Herald Tribune
Published: July 21, 2006
SINGAPORE Malaysia's foreign minister issued a statement Friday that was unusually critical of Myanmar's authoritarian regime, signaling a shift from a longstanding policy of noninterference in favor of the kind of diplomatic pressure favored by the United States and Europe.
Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations could no longer defend an intransigent regime that was becoming a liability to the group's relations with the rest of the world.
"There is a general feeling among Asean members that the maximum benefit to be gained by Asean through its cooperation with some of its dialogue partners is being held hostage by Myanmar," Syed Hamid said in a speech delivered by his political secretary at a conference on Myanmar in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.
Syed Hamid's comments came just days before his country plays host to a five-day annual meeting of Asean foreign ministers.
His remarks represented a remarkable break from a policy that had been bedrock among Asean members, Malaysia in particular.
"The fact that they've come out with a public statement like this shows that they are getting frustrated," said Bruce Gale, a political risk consultant in Singapore. "Asean has been realizing that unless Myanmar gets its act together it's going to affect Asean's relationships with Europe and the United States."
The upcoming meeting is likely to see Myanmar come under renewed pressure to hold elections and release the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest. In May, Myanmar's ruling junta extended her latest six-month detention for another year. She has been under house arrest for most of the 16 years since the military seized power following her party's victory in national elections in 1990.
Southeast Asian leaders long dismissed calls to isolate Myanmar as Western interference and recommended instead engaging Myanmar through investment and trade. But in the past two years, growing impatience with the junta's failure to live up to promises to pursue a seven-step road map toward democracy have precipitated a reversal.
The issue came to a head last July, when Asean forced Myanmar to surrender its turn as the association's chairman.
Since, Southeast Asian lawmakers have issued increasingly outspoken condemnations of Myanmar's regime, including calls for the Myanmar issue to be submitted to the UN Security Council.
Syed Hamid said Friday that Asean's policy of "constructive engagement" had failed to catalyze political change there and that Myanmar had refused to accept delegates from Asean. "Myanmar does not want us to stand with them," he said.
"This means that Myanmar does not need us for solving their issue. So it is best that it is handled by the UN."
In London, Malaysia's defense minister, Najib Razak, said Thursday that Malaysia would consider contributing troops should the UN Security Council decide to send peacekeepers to the Israeli-Lebanon border. Malaysia has condemned Israeli attacks and Syed Hamid called Friday for the UN to do more to prevent the conflict from widening.