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Asean to Listen to Suu Kyi as Burma Seeks Chair

Originally appeared in Associated Press

September 20, 2011

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations will weigh the opinion of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi as it considers whether to invite Burma to chair the regional grouping in 2014, Indonesia’s foreign minister told The Associated Press.

Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa also said Indonesia’s own transformation from its authoritarian regime to democracy in a decade could offer lessons to Burma, one of the world’s most sanctioned nations because of its poor human rights record.

Natalegawa said he will travel to Burma in October as Asean considers whether Burma is on track to assume the chairmanship of the 10-nation grouping, currently held by Indonesia. He said Burma was extremely keen to do so, and he said that could be an incentive to encourage more democratic reform.

“I shall be keen to listen and to hear the voice of civil society, not least the voice of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi … whether this can have a multiplier effect, a pull effect in speeding up the pace of change,” Natalegawa said.

It’s unclear when Asean will make its decision, but it could come when its leaders hold their annual summit in November.

Burma held elections in 2010 for the first time in two decades and its long-ruling junta then formally handed over power to a civilian government, but military figures still dominate it. Suu Kyi, whose party won the 1990 general election but was barred from taking power, has been freed from house arrest and held talks with Burma’s President Thein Sein.

Natalegawa welcomed these developments. “We have a reference point,” he said, referring to Indonesia’s own rapid transformation from the three-decade dictatorship of Suharto, an army general, which ended in 1998. “We are keen to share lessons learned to our friends in Myanmar,” he said.

As the largest and most influential country in Southeast Asia, Indonesia has traditionally been prominent in regional affairs, but it has adopted a particularly activist role in the past year and, with US encouragement, has thrust Asean further onto the world stage.

Indonesia helped broker a cease-fire in a bloody border skirmish between Asean members Thailand and Cambodia this year — a departure for a group that for years was lampooned by critics as an ineffectual talk shop. It has also advanced efforts to frame a code of conduct in the South China Sea, where China has long-running territorial disputes with several Asean members, including Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei.

In November, Indonesia will host the first summit of East Asian leaders to include the United States and Russia.

Natalegawa said with its positive relations with all powers in the region — not least the US and China — Indonesia could help prevent dangerous rivalries from emerging. “We are trying to instill some principles for our region and prevent a new Cold War-type competition,” he said.

Despite that ambition as a regional leader — and Indonesia’s emergence as a model for how a predominantly Muslim country can embrace democracy — this diverse nation of 245 million people is still grappling with serious human rights concerns of its own.

The government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has a patchy record on religious freedom, failing to prevent attacks on the minority Muslim Ahmadiyah sect that have worsened since a 2008 government decree that the sect’s practitioners can face up to five years in prison. A victim of a recent mob attack received a stiffer sentence than some of his assailants.

Also, Indonesian troops have received only months-long sentences for torture and murder in Papua, where the military retains a heavy presence because of a long-running separatist movement.

Natalegawa said he could understand how the verdicts in the Ahmadiyah cases would be viewed with “profound disappointment” but emphasized that the government could not interfere with the independent judiciary.

He said the military trials in Papua represented progress and a stark contrast with what would have happened in the past. “There would have been denial and no process whatsoever,” he said.

View the original article here.

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This post is in: ASEAN

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