BURMA ISSUES CONFINED TO ASEAN SIDELINES


2003-10-07
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Leaders ink trade pact, vow to cooperate on terrorism

Southeast Asian leaders sidestepped direct confrontation with Burma's military junta on the first day of their summit in Bali, concentrating instead on a trade accord and pledge to fight terrorism in the region.

Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) called for faster moves toward a European-style single market, inking a document known as the Bali accord to revive their struggling economies, and pledged to step up the fight against terrorism.

Protests and direct confrontation with Burma were relegated to the sidelines. Outside the conference center in Nusa Dua, protesters unfurled a huge painting of the Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, under house arrest in her Rangoon home.

Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi also confronted the Burmese Prime Minister for five minutes on the sidelines of the meeting. "The international community is concerned with the situation... surrounding Suu Kyi, and I am personally concerned and worried about the current situation in [Burma]," Koizumi told Khin Nyunt.

In an exchange relayed to reporters by Japan's government spokesman Jiro Okuyama, Khin Nyunt responded by saying that he understood Koizumi's concerns, adding that since becoming prime minister two months ago, he has had "a strong determination to move toward democratization."

ASEAN members, who had been unusually vocal in their condemnation of Rangoon in its continued detention of Aung San Suu Kyi, toned down the rhetoric for the Oct.7-8 summit. "This is not a retreat. This is a vindication of ASEAN's dialogue approach," said Marty Natalegawa, the Indonesian government spokesman. "Whether we like it or not, [Burma] is part of the regional environment... We cannot wish [it] away."

Meanwhile, Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri made no mention of Suu Kyi but cited Rangoon's recent pledges to work toward democracy as a "positive development."

Burma, which is due to hold the ASEAN chairmanship in 2006, has given no timetable for the process, nor a date for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other leaders of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

Khin Nyunt told RFA's Burmese service that the junta is "preparing" to convene a new National Assembly that will include the country's ethnic minorities. But he gave no details and made no promises regarding Burma's worsening political stalemate.

U.N. special envoy Razali Ismail made a three-day visit to Burma last week, during which he held meetings with military leaders in Rangoon and Aung San Suu Kyi. But his trip, seen by the United Nations as a last window of opportunity, failed to win any assurances or re-start the reconciliation process launched in October 2000.

Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested after a government-led ambush on her motorcade on May 30 in the north of the country, in which as many as 100 people died, and an unknown number of women were raped, according to eyewitness testimonies recorded for RFA's Burmese service.

Tin Oo and other senior opposition members remain in detention, and Aung San Suu Kyi's lakeside home is still under tight security. #####

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