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Rights Supporters Press ASEAN on Burma


Leading pro-democracy politicians from across Southeast Asia have condemned Burma's human rights record ahead of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Laos. But ASEAN does not appear willing to confront Burma over its internal politics.

Critics of Burma's authoritarian government are pressuring ASEAN to deny Burma the association's rotating chairmanship in 2006.

Malaysia's opposition leader Lim Kit Siang led the charge Saturday at a meeting of ASEAN lawmakers and diplomats in Kuala Lumpur, which comes ahead of the summit in Laos beginning Monday.

Mr. Lim called Burma's professed commitment to a transition to democracy a sham and blasted ASEAN's policy of constructive engagement with Burma's military leaders.

Mr. Lim says Burma must free pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and introduce substantive democratic reforms before further engagement.

A spokesman for Burma's main opposition party, the National League for Democracy, tells VOA he welcomes the tough rhetoric coming from the Kuala Lumpur meeting but suggests the pressure will fade quickly. U Lwin says this is not the first time Burma has had to confront protests before ASEAN summit, but once underway trade issues dominate and human rights are pushed to the side.

"There was always big noise before starting the meeting, when it started, always cool down, the same thing will happen again this coming meeting," said U Lwin.

Burma political situation is not on ASEAN's official agenda.

In addition, Rangoon has carefully cultivated better ties with ASEAN, one of the only international associations willing to accept it. This week - in the lead up to this ASEAN summit - Burma's military leaders went on the offensive, promising to resume constitutional reform in February and releasing more than 9,000 thousand prisoners, a few dozen of them political.

NLD spokesman U Lwin dismisses the move as a publicity ploy staged just for ASEAN.

"There were so few political prisoners included, not even one percent of the total release." he said.

Human rights monitors concur, saying there are nearly 1,500 political prisoners in Burma, fewer than 35 were released this week.

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