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ASEAN Breaks With Tradition, Comments on Aung San Suu Kyi's Detention


The foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations plan to take the unusual step of issuing a statement about the detention of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations will break from its long practice of not commenting about the internal political matters of its members by issuing a statement on Burma's political troubles.

M.C. Abad, a spokesman for ASEAN, said the foreign ministers of the 10 ASEAN nations will discuss Burma's crackdown on its political opposition. Mr. Abad said that on Tuesday, the foreign ministers will issue a joint communiqué expressing concern about Burma.

The ASEAN foreign ministers are gathering in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, for an annual meeting that begins Monday. They will later meet with the foreign ministers of ASEAN's so-called dialogue partners, which include the United States, Japan, Australia, and China.

Mr. Abad said the communiqué will be ASEAN's first comment on Burma's political situation.

On May 30, Burma's military government detained Aung San Suu Kyi, head of the opposition National League for Democracy, after a clash between her supporters and pro-government groups. Other NLD leaders have been placed under house arrest and the party's offices have been closed.

Burma Foreign Minister Win Aung said the government is not detaining Aung San Suu Kyi, but is holding her in protective custody to keep her safe from unnamed assassins. The diplomat, who spoke in Cambodia before the ASEAN gathering, said Aung San Suu Kyi will be released when the situation in the country returns to normal, but did not say when that might be.

Secretary of State Colin Powell and top diplomats from several other nations at the ASEAN gathering are expected to press Burma to free the NLD leader.

Aung San Suu Kyi was released from 18 months detention 13 months ago. Meanwhile, efforts to promote dialogue between the military government and opposition have largely stalled.

The government never allowed the NLD to take office after the party won national elections in 1990, and has held Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for about eight years since then. Several of the ASEAN dialogue partners are expected to follow the U.S. lead and push Burma for her release.

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