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Burma's Upcoming Elections Bring Disgrace on ASEAN

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The ASEAN Foreign Ministers are at a meeting from 19 23 July in the Vietnamese capital of Ha Noi for the 43rd ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM). The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) Meeting is also scheduled to be held there. Discussions on ASEAN community building, the regional architecture and the implementation of the ASEAN Charter are on the agenda of the AMM on 19-20 July. The five-year Work Plan of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) is also expected to be approved.

The foreign ministers will be joined later in the week by officials from the Asia-Pacific, Europe and the United States for the ASEAN Regional Forum. U.S. officials say Secretary of States Hillary Clinton will raise concerns about election preparations in Burma/Myanmar, hoping to highlight that the country's military leaders must be held accountable for the lack of real democratic reform.

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The United States is also more and more concerned about potential links between Myanmar and North Korea, including reports by an exiled anti-government group that Myanmar may be harboring nuclear ambitions of its own, U.S. officials said.

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Jeremy Browne told the British parliament this month that elections in Myanmar this year could not be viewed as free and fair as long as Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners remained in detention. Browne said the new British government supported London's long-standing policy of applying pressure on Myanmar, also known as Burma, to improve its political and human rights record.

Myanmar's Southeast Asian neighbors have urged the junta to hold "free and fair" elections, expected this year, and to free pro-democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Southeast Asia has been divided over the issue. Early last year some Southeast Asian countries urged ASEAN to take a tougher stand with a public appeal calling on the junta to grant an amnesty to Suu Kyi.

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ASEAN's credibility is at stake unless it failed to support freedom of expression and other rights ahead of elections planned in its military-ruled member Burma or Myanmar, Amnesty International said on 18 July.

"Southeast Asian nations should press the Myanmar government to protect the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association throughout the elections period and beyond," the London-based watchdog said in a statement. Amnesty made the comment ahead of annual talks by foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), beginning in Vietnam on 19 July.

Burma/Myanmar is situated at the juncture of three significant zones in Asia. It is bordered by East Asia's China, Southeast Asia's Thailand and Malaysia and South Asia's India and Bangladesh.

In March 1962, the late general Ne Win seized power from prime minister U Nu's civilian government and cleverly followed U Nu's foreign policies of strict nonaligned status and neutrality. Although Ne Win was responsible for countless human rights abuses, the international community took little notice during the cold war. At the time, Burma's Southeast Asian neighbors were unstable. Vietnam and Cambodia faced times of turbulence. But U Nu's foreign policies protected Ne Win running the country's economy into the ground under his Burmese Socialist Programme Party.

Despite considerable financial aid from countries such as Japan, Burma sank to the level of a 'least developed country'. Corruption and mismanagement decayed the country's potential growth.

Debts mounted up. Human rights abuses were out of control. Civil war spread out up to Burma's ethnic areas. Soldiers are experienced at warfare but are unable to manage economics. They made policy errors and unpalatable decisions, which ultimately brought about the 1988 prodemocracy people's uprising. Ne Win's namesake socialist regime was totally overthrown.

But, a new military junta, State Law and Order Restoration Council, emerged on 18 September, 1988 with Ne Win continuing to pull strings behind the curtain. The regime refused to respect the results of the 1990 elections and while calls were made for a United Nations Security Council resolution on Burma, China and Singapore, Cuba and Mexico opposed the move at that juncture.

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As Burma's security situation worsened, the junta took advantage to get protection by joining into ASEAN in 1997. Since then it has continued to discomfit the regional grouping. While activists called for ASEAN to act on Burma, members chose constructive engagement to try to encourage reforms.

The Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, signed at the First ASEAN Summit in February 1976, declared that political and security dialogue and cooperation should aim to promote regional peace and stability.

Regional resilience was to be achieved through cooperating and the principles of self-confidence, self-reliance, mutual respect and solidarity.

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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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