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Indonesia says Burma Must Release Democracy Leader for Elections to Be Credible


Indonesia's foreign minister has said Burma must release democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi if its 2010 elections are to be credible. Indonesia has been pushing for tougher action against human rights violators during meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations this week in Thailand.

Indonesians Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda on Tuesday gave a clear message to Burma's military government.

He said Burma's elections next year will not be free and fair if anyone is restricted from participating, including Burma's detained democracy leader.

"We have been saying to them (Myanmar) directly that the process must be inclusive for all groups in society … including Aung San Suu Kyi," he said.

Wirayuda made the comments on the second day of meetings of foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes Burma.

Indonesia has been pushing for a stronger human rights body to deal with situations like Burma, where more than 2,000 political prisoners are behind bars.

Indonesia is considered a successful Asian model for its transition from military dictatorship to democracy, and has become outspoken about rights violators.

Burma's military government is under intense pressure to release Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for 13 years. She is now on trial for breaking the terms of her house arrest, and faces five years in jail.

Rights groups and Western governments have called the trial a sham designed to keep Aung San Suu Kyi locked up while the military rigs next year's elections. Her National League for Democracy party won Burma's last elections in 1990, but the military refused to give up power.

The situation in Burma has prompted some ASEAN members to break from the group's tradition of not commenting on the internal affairs of other members.

ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan told journalists Monday as long as Burma's political problems are not resolved, ASEAN will continue to have a burden on its lap to explain to the world. He said ASEAN members are trying to convince Burma's generals that now is the time to open up while governments, such as the United States, are reassessing their policies.

"I think this is a good opportunity and it will take some convincing from ASEAN for Myanmar to take a look at that kind of opening, that kind of opportunity," Surin said. "And, I think we have been able to impress upon them that this is a good time to try to accommodate an international offer, international expectation, and ASEAN desire to help to engage."

Washington evaluating its policy on Burma, saying neither sanctions nor engagement have worked.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Thailand Tuesday and will meet with ASEAN foreign ministers in Phuket.

She is expected to discuss a range of issues from problem states Burma and North Korea to concerns about terrorism and pollution.

Burma is expected to dominate discussions. Thailand's Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya says resolving Burma's political problems is key to ASEAN's future.

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