Activists, academics call on grouping to suspend Burma

Bangkok Post

A group of senators, activists and academics has called for Burma to be suspended from Asean in protest against the ruling junta's oppression of pro-democracy movements.

The group includes Senator Jon Ungphakorn and academics such as Nidhi Eowseewong from Chiang Mai and Charnvit Kasetsiri.

Their open letter was issued yesterday to mark the 64th birthday of Burma's democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

They called on Asean secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan to suspend Burma as an Asean member country for one year until Mrs Suu Kyi is released from jail.

She is being tried by the junta and held in Rangoon's Insein prison on charges of violating her house arrest after an American man swam to her lakeside home.

They also urged other Asean member countries to expel Rangoon from the grouping if the Burmese regime fails to bring about democracy and political reform in the country within three years.

But Aung Zaw, editor of Irrawaddy magazine, said despite international pressure on the junta over Mrs Suu Kyi, a fine-tuned approach is also needed.

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon needed to rethink the organisation's pol icy towards Burma and take a more holistic approach, he said.

''The international community should realise Aung San Suu Kyi has never asked for her own release but the release of all political prisoners and a real political dialogue in her country, no matter how and where she is locked up or for how long,'' said the Chiang Mai-based editor.

The UN, he said, needed a skilful and talented negotiator, and to do more homework and consultation with regional governments and various pressure groups, to improve their strategy.

Aung Naing Oo, a Chiang Mai-based independent analyst, said a long-term realistic and sustainable international strategy towards Burma had yet to be developed beyond dealing with next year's election. If the present approach continued Burma would be reviled and isolated like North Korea which would only benefit the junta and put Asean in an even weaker position to effect change.

Thailand needed to rethink its Burma policy, taking a more balanced approach, said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of Chulalongkorn University's Institute of Security and International Studies.

''Burma needs a smooth transition from military to civilian government and Thailand certainly does not want to see the neighbouring country become a Yugoslavia,'' he said.