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ASEAN should not be taken in by unprincipled Burma

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ASEAN is seemingly committed to accelerating economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the South-East Asia region, to strengthen the institution for a thriving and composed community of Southeast Asian nations. So far one of its members is a military-ruled nation that pays no attention to the norms of the grouping. How can the association ignore the insubordination of its desperado member, Burma or Myanmar?

ASEAN aims to promote regional peace and stability through respect for justice and the rule of law and adherence to the principles of the U.N. Charter. Yet it shuts its eyes while extrajudicial killings and violence against women and children take place daily in one of its member countries. There is no law and order at all under Burma's military dictators.

For example, on 30 December 2009, fifteen political promoters from three townships in Mandalay Division, who were held in Mandalay for three months, were given various prison sentences ranging from two years to 71 years by a court sitting inside the prison. The special branch of the police arrested the political activists from Myingyan, Nyaung Oo and Kyauk Padaung townships last September and October without giving any reasons and did not let them to meet their family members during detention. They have been given harsh imprisonments by a kangaroo-court in jail without having a lawyer on 6 January.

Besides, a military-controlled township court in Burma has handed down a 20-year jail term to freelance reporter Hla Hla Win, a young video journalist who worked with the Burma exile broadcaster "Democratic Voice of Burma" based in Norway, as the ruling junta continues its crackdown on dissent. She was arrested in September after taking a video interview at a Buddhist monastery in Pakokku, a town in Magwe Division, the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres and the Burma Media Association said in a joint statement. For that she was given a seven-year prison sentence in October. Burma ranks alongside nine other countries in the "worst of the worst" category in Freedom House's "Freedom in the World 2010' report, which includes Libya, Tibet, China, Eritrea, North Korea and Equatorial Guinea.

Moreover, two officials have been sentenced to death by a court in Burma for leaking information, official sources say, in a case reportedly involving secret ties between the ruling junta and North Korea. The men were arrested after details and photos about a trip to Pyongyang by the Burma regime's third-in-command, General Shwe Mann, were leaked to exiled media last year, the website of Thailand-based Irrawaddy News reported.

"Two officials got the death sentence and another one was jailed for 15 years for leaking information. They were sentenced at the special court in Insein Prison on Thursday," a source said. The two men sentenced to death were Win Naing Kyaw and Thura Kyaw while the jailed man was Pyan Sein, with no further details of the case. Win Naing Kyaw is a former military officer and Thura Kyaw and Pyan Sein worked at the ministry of foreign affairs, Irrawaddy said.

In such a political weather, Burma's Foreign Minister Nyan Win has told Southeast Asian counterparts that planned elections would be held in this year 2010 and he also guaranteed to be free, fair and credible, the Asean Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan said on 14 January at a regional conference in Vietnam.

Surin said the military-ruled country's Foreign Minister Nyan Win made the explanation at 13-January dinner in Vietnam with his counterparts from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

"That was done last night and it was assured that it will be this year, and it will be free, fair and credible," Surin told reporters on the sideline-meeting of the Asean foreign ministers.

"No date has been set, but everything is moving on course. That's what we were told."

Surin said the Asean ministers "have expressed their high hope that the issue of Burma will be resolved this year and that we can move on to the new era of Asean relations and cooperation with the international community."

Asean, which has a principle of non-interference in members' affairs, has long faced criticism for not taking a firmer ground on Burma. However, many critics are skeptical, saying the regime has made such promises in the past without honoring them. Kraisak Choonhavan, president of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus, has repeatedly pointed out that the junta has often stated it would respect democratic values, but has constantly refused to let its opponents participate freely in the political process.

Burma has suffered under ironfisted military rulers since 1962. The regime has earned a reputation as one of the world's worst human rights violators. It viciously suppressed pro-democracy movements in 1988, during the Depayin conspiracy on May 30, 2003, and the Saffron Revolution in September 2007, as well as many other sporadic crackdowns.

The junta has arrested over 2,100 political dissidents including Suu Kyi, who has been confined to her residence for 14 of the last 20 years.

The regime held a deceptive referendum at gunpoint in May, 2008, just a few days after Cyclone Nargis devastated the country. The junta said its 2008 Constitution was "approved" by more than 90 percent of qualified voters in the referendum, which has been widely dismissed as a charade. The regime has ignored calls from the international community and Burma's main opposition party, the National League for Democracy, to review the Constitution, which will only bring further troubles to the Burmese people.

The elections planned for 2010 are intended to decriminalize military ruling. People are convinced that, like the referendum held at gunpoint, they will not be free or fair. The junta may not be able to deal with the worsening socio-economic situation if it continues to turn down the national reconciliation process being urged by the opposition NLD, the United Nationalities Alliance and exiled dissident groups.

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Zin Linn was born on February 9, 1946 in a small town in Mandalay Division. He began writing poems in 1960 and received a B.A (Philosophy) in 1976. He became an activist in the High School Union after the students' massacre on 7th July 1962. (more...)

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