Friday, September 28, 2007

Burma: ASEAN's condemnation

Message displayed over Burmese state TV criticizing VOA and BBC

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has used unusually strong language to condemn ASEAN member Burma's crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations. The condemnation was a forceful break with the organization's normal reluctance to interfere in member nations' domestic affairs. VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins has details on this and other regional reaction to events in Burma, in a report from Jakarta.

ASEAN expressed "revulsion" Friday over the killings of at least 10 demonstrators in Burma's former capital of Rangoon over the last two days. The organization called on Burma's military rulers to halt the violence and free all political prisoners, including democracy leader and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

ASEAN has previously prodded Burma, also known as Myanmar, to speed up democratic reform and reconciliation with pro-democracy forces in the country. But Friday's condemnation of the Burmese junta was notable for its drama and candor.

Singapore currently holds the chairmanship of ASEAN. Singaporean Foreign Minister George Yeo, speaking on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, says that unless Burma changes its violent course it will drag down the rest of ASEAN.

"It has certainly been a disaster for Myanmar and very bad news for ASEAN. Our credibility is at stake, our collective reputation has been besmirched," he said. "Unless we put things right, and set Myanmar to a new course, we will all be affected and dragged down with Myanmar."

Protest demonstrations are being held in many cities in the region and around the world in reaction to the violence in Rangoon and other Burmese locations.

In the Australian capital of Canberra, protesters clashed with police while trying to charge the Burmese embassy. Several people were arrested.

Here in Indonesia's capital, Jakarta, protesters outside the Burmese embassy shouted for an end to the violence and the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. The protesters wore red in response to an international call to show solidarity with the Burmese protesters. At the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, civil servants observed a minute of silence for those who have died during the crackdown.

In Rangoon Thursday, a Japanese video journalist, identified as Kenji Nagai, was shot to death by security forces. Japan, Burma's largest aid donor, says it will decide whether or not to suspend humanitarian aid after it investigates the death.

News reports said the United Nations special envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, was in Singapore Friday, where he is due to pick up a visa for Burma. Gambari has been sent by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to mediate between the Burmese protesters and the government. The news reports said he met with Singapore Foreign Ministry officials, who reiterated their support for his mission.

Protests have been held elsewhere in Asia, and in the United States and Europe. Government leaders all over the world have condemned the Burmese leadership. The United States and the European Union have long-standing sanctions against Burma, and U.S. President George Bush announced additional sanctions earlier this week.

By Nancy-Amelia Collins Jakarta 28 September 2007
Published with the permission of VOA