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Burma Rebuked for Lack of Democratic Reform

Southeast Asian foreign ministers have rebuked Burma's military government for lack of progress on democratic reform and the continued detention of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The ministers made the remarks at a gathering in Malaysia.

Malaysia's foreign minister, Syed Hamid Albar, says Southeast Asian foreign ministers have told their Burmese counterpart that there needs to be some tangible movement in Burma's so-called "road map" toward democracy.

He says Burma's military government needs to be more responsive to the wishes of the international community, and also needs to show some movement in respect to detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Mr. Syed made the remarks Friday as the foreign ministers prepared for a summit next week of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and a half-dozen other Asia-Pacific leaders.

Burma's military leaders say they are moving toward what they call "disciplined democracy." On Monday, Burmese General Thein Sein re-opened a constitutional convention outside Rangoon that the Burmese government calls the first step of the road map toward democracy it announced two years ago.

But Southeast Asian governments have become increasingly frustrated over the slow pace toward reform. A group of parliament members from several ASEAN countries last week called for the expulsion of Burma from ASEAN if it does not release Aung San Suu Kyi within one year.

A spokesman for her National League for Democracy, Han Tar, says the lawmakers' warning has boosted morale among NLD members. "Our morale is lifted by this support," he said. "All the democracy movements, all the people who are participating in this, they are very happy to hear these words."

The Director-General of Malaysia's Institute for Strategic and International Studies, Mohamed Jawhar Hassan, said all available pressure should be brought to bear on the Burmese government, but he noted that the military leadership has indicated it will proceed at its own pace.

"Myanmar is a strong state," said Mr. Jawhar. "It is not going to collapse through external pressure. So change will have to come essentially from within. And I am afraid it could be very, very bloody."

Popular unrest in 1988 led the military to hold elections two years later. The NLD won the elections, but was not allowed to govern. The NLD continues to press for democratic change in Burma, but has been undermined by the closure of all but one of its offices and the detention of 100 party leaders.