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ASEAN Envoy Visits Burma After Two-Month Delay

A special envoy to Burma from the nations of Southeast Asia has been in Rangoon pushing the military government to speed up democratic reforms. The envoy, Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar, concluded his trip a day early after meeting with the Burmese prime minister. No reason was given for his early departure.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar ended his visit Friday after meeting with Burmese Prime Minister Soe Win. The visit began Thursday when he met with his Burmese counterpart, Foreign Minister Nyan Win and other senior officials in the military government.

Critics downplayed the trip's importance because Syed was not allowed to visit detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi or any of the other 1,000 political prisoners.

Burma's state-controlled news media called the trip a good-will visit.

Syed originally planned to leave Rangoon on Saturday but late Friday afternoon he flew home on a Malaysian government plane. No reason was given for the schedule change.

Syed was asked to visit Burma last December by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN, during its summit in Kuala Lumpur.

The secretary of the ASEAN Inter-parliamentary Caucus on Burma, Teresa Kok, says she supports the trip, but she is not optimistic about its outcome because it was delayed and came after a visit to Rangoon by Indonesia's president.

"This is a message to Syed Hamid Albar that he is not important in their eyes," she said. "But any kind of contact with the Burmese junta is also a chance for the ASEAN government leaders to convey the concern of ASEAN governments and people on the situation in Burma."

She said China and India have more influence on the Burmese government than ASEAN. As a result, she says her group is trying interest members of the Indian parliament in the Burmese issue.

ASEAN has been under increasing international pressure to push for political reform in Burma, which has been under military rule for more than four decades. The United States and European Union have imposed economic sanctions to press for change. But ASEAN members say their policy of engaging the Burmese government will produce more results.

ASEAN historically has avoided actions that could be seen as interference in the internal affairs of its members.

Syed told reporters at the end of the ASEAN summit in Kuala Lumpur that his mission was not to interfere in Burmese politics. But he indicated ASEAN nations are concerned about developments in the country.

"If certain things happen at the national level which have an impact or effect on countries outside your own borders, then the countries outside your own borders would have a right to say something," said Syed.

Some ASEAN members have voiced concern that they are being affected by the Burmese situation, particularly drug trafficking, people smuggling and the spread of AIDS. They are also worried that worsening economic conditions in Burma are sending hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants across their borders looking for work.