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Malaysian Lawmakers to Call For Burma to be Denied Leadership of ASEAN in 2006  

A group of Malaysian lawmakers is pressing for Burma to be prevented from taking over the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) next year, because of the military government's failure on democracy and human rights.

Lawmakers' from Malaysia's ruling government coalition say they are preparing a move aimed at suspending Burma's scheduled turn to chair the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2006.

Announcement Tuesday of the unusually blunt move followed a meeting of legislators the day before, overseen by Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

The lawmakers say they will submit a motion in the Malaysian parliament later this week. The motion will be for a resolution calling on ASEAN to bar Burma from the chairmanship, unless Rangoon takes concrete steps towards democracy, and releases jailed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

While such a resolution would not be binding on ASEAN, it would mark a major departure from the 10-member organization's usual reticence in criticizing fellow members.

Zaid Ibrahim, a government member of parliament and president of ASEAN's inter-parliamentary caucus on Burma, said his group's patience with Burma had run out.

"Myanmar [Burma] is scheduled to takeover the chair of ASEAN next year and so it is something urgent, something necessary that we should do to avoid," said Zaid Ibrahim. "We feel the lack of progress in democracy and continued detention of Aung San Suu Kyi is unacceptable."

Mr. Zaid said his group hoped the resolution would encourage other Southeast Asian democracies to put similar pressure on Burma.

Burma was granted membership in ASEAN in 1997, a move criticized by human rights groups and by such key ASEAN partners as the European Union and the United States.

ASEAN has argued that inclusion of Burma in the group would allow other members to nudge the military government towards reform.

However, criticism of the Burmese government by other member states has gradually become more open over the past year. A conference of ASEAN lawmakers late last year recommended Burma be suspended if it failed to implement democratic reforms and release Aung San Suu Kyi.

Mr. Zaid said Tuesday it was proper for Malaysia to take the initiative to punish Rangoon, since Kuala Lumpur had originally supported its membership.

Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Prize winner and leader of the opposition National League for Democracy, has been under house arrest for most of the past decade, despite efforts by the United Nations to have her released.