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Rights groups to Asean: Keep junta on leash

Originally appeared in Business Mirror

April 14, 2010

By Estrella Torres

Following the landmark call of leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to the military junta in Burma to hold an inclusive, fair and free elections this year, rights groups from the region urged the regional bloc to put benchmarks in the junta’s commitments.

The Task Force on Asean and Burma, a regional network of rights groups pushing for democratization in Burma, welcomed the calls of Asean leaders who met in Hanoi over the weekend for the junta to implement the road map for democracy that includes general elections this year.

Burma prime minister Thein Sein briefed his colleagues during the concluded 16th Asean Leaders’ Summit that his government was making political developments in the implementation of the road map for democracy.

In the Asean Chairman’s statement, the leaders “underscored the importance of national reconciliation in Myanmar [Burma as renamed by the junta] and the holding of the general election in a free, fair and inclusive manner.”

These efforts, they believe, will contribute to Burma’s  stability and development. “We also stressed the need that Myanmar would continue to work with Asean and United Nations in this process.”

Burma made a commitment to Asean to follow the road map for democracy in 2006, but the Task Force on Asean and Burma believes the military junta has kept these essential needs from being realized.

The road map also includes the release of Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and the participation of her political party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), and the release of the more than 2,000 political prisoners.

“Asean must wake up and realize that in order to see Burma become a secure, democratic country that stronger efforts must happen. Calling for free and fair elections, and offering to assist monitoring polls on the day of the elections alone, merely will not be enough,” said Aung Myo Min, coordinator of the Task Force on Asean and Burma.

He said, “Asean should not hesitate to actively promote these benchmarks and take concerted efforts to see their fulfillment.”

Min noted that Asean’s policy of engagement had failed to produce positive democratic progress in Burma that will ensure future stability. “The military generals continue to show contempt for the principles of the Asean charter. While Asean is working to strengthen human rights, rule of law, and good governance throughout the region, the military regime is culpable in possible crimes against humanity.”

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