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Burmese Civil Society Groups Face Impasse at Asean Summit

Originally appeared in The Irrawaddy

May 4, 2011

A delegation of civic groups from inside Burma that are backed by the government and a separate delegation of independent pro-democracy groups from outside Burma were unable to agree on who would represent the combined groups at the May 7 interface meeting with Association of Southeast Asian Nation (Asean) leaders in Jakarta, Indonesia.

“They were supposed to choose last night, but the delegation from inside Burma and the pro-democracy delegation were not able to come to an agreement. So no country representative was chosen,” said Jessica Stevens, Media and Communications Officer for Burma Partnership in Jakarta.

The inside civic groups nominated Burmese Police Col. Sit Aye, a member of the Legal Advisory Board and representative of the Anti-Narcotics Association. The outside groups nominated Aung Myo Min, the director of the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma and coordinator of the Task Force on Asean and Burma.

Khin Ohmar, the vice-chair of the Burmese Women’s Union in exile and the Coordinator of Burma Partnership in Jakarta, said that nobody from the independent groups would accept a representative chosen by the Burmese government.Suntaree Saeng-ging, the secretary-general of the Thai NGO Coordinating Committee, said that if the Asean governments insisted on sending their own nominated representatives to replace those selected by the independent civic groups, the independent groups would boycott the interface meeting, according to the Bangkok Post, an English language Thai newspaper.

In addition, while independent NGOs from Cambodia proposed Thun Saray, the chairman of the Cambodia Human Rights and Development Association, as their representative, the Cambodian government is trying to choose its own representative.

The Asean Civil Society Conference/Asean People’s Forum (ACSC/APF) steering committee believes that representatives of civic society should be independent voices on behalf of the people rather than representatives from government-backed organizations.

In the past, however, representative from outside Burma have been denied the chance to meet with Asean leaders in the formal meeting.

At the 14th Asean Summit in Thailand, Khin Ohmar and a Cambodian activist were not allowed to participate in the civic forum with Asean leaders because Burmese Prime Minister Gen Thein Sein and Cambodia’s Hun Sen threatened at the time to boycott the meeting if the two activists were allowed to take part.

Eighteen representatives from Burma’s civil society that operate outside the country, including members of the Task Force on Asean and Burma, are participating in the 6th ACSC/APF.

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

Debbie Stothard, the coordinator of the Alternative Asean Network on Burma, said the reality is that regardless of where people are located, whether they are in exile or inside the country, the delegation should be from civic society and not from the government.

“We also have to understand it is not the right of the government to chose who is civic society. It is the right of civic society to choose who civic society is. If the Asean leaders really believe in their charter and the principles of democracy and human rights, they should also respect civic society just like civic society respects the government,” said Stothard.

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This post is in: ASEAN, News Clip

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