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First US Ambassador to Asean Expected to Press Burma

Originally appeared in The Irrawaddy

April 29, 2011

David Lee Carden, a former attorney who has been named the first US ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), will attend the Asean Summit in Indonesia next week, where he will have the opportunity to push Burma to change and discuss with Asean members whether Burma chair the organization in 2014, claim Burma activists.

“The role of Ambassador David Lee Carden is very important. For the time being, America stands firmly on democracy and human rights for Burma. There will be discussion and debate between the ambassador and the representatives from Asean who support Burma,” said Khin Ohmar, the coordinator of Burma Partnership, speaking from Jakarta.

Observers said that some member nations of Asean have seemingly welcomed Burma’s new government to promote their own economic interests, using the body’s inclusive nature to circumvent official anti-junta policy.

In addition, a top US official recently criticized Burma’s neighboring countries—India, China and Thailand—for acting in their “strategic” or “economic” national interests with respect to Burma, making it difficult for the international community to move things in the right direction at an accelerated pace.

Debbie Stothard, the coordinator of the Alternative Asean Network on Burma, said the Burmese regime is gambling that it can get a “honeymoon” period for the next few months by using the excuse that they are trying to set up the new government.

“It will not benefit the people of Burma or the people of Asean for Burma to chair Asean in 2014 unless there is very clear progress in Burma, including the immediate and unconditional release of all politician prisoners, a national ceasefire, tripartite dialogue and much needed economic reform,” she said.

“I think Asean should be putting more pressure on Burma. If the country had an election and has a parliament now, why is the parliament not changing the situation? If the regime has made a commitment to have a parliament, then the parliament should be allowed to implement urgently needed reform instead of having to face all of these constraints,” said Stothard.

Meanwhile, new Burmese Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwina—a former senior military officer and Burmese ambassador to the UN—greeted representatives from neighboring Southeast Asian nations at the informal Asean Ministerial Meeting in Bangkok early this month.

Eighteen representatives from Burma’s civil society, including members of the Task Force on Asean and Burma, will participate in the 6th Asean Civil Society Conference/Asean People’s Forum 2011 (ACSC/APF) that will be held in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The conference is organized as a parallel process to the Asean Summit, as a platform to exchange ideas and provide input to Asean leaders and policy makers.

The Burma delegation will be participating in the plenary session of the ACSC/APF on May 3. On May 4, representatives will be holding a workshop entitled “Asean People’s Responsibility to Promote Human Rights and Democratization in Burma.”

“Definitely, there are more expectations that there is a chance for open dialogue and frank discussion on Burma in Indonesia, unlike the situation in Vietnam last year, and we hope that Indonesia will push more effectively for genuine changes in Burma,” said Stothard.

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This post is in: ASEAN, News Clip

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