Saturday, November 17, 2007

Asian Leaders Will Avoid Sanctions, Rebuke on Myanmar (Update1)

By En-Lai Yeoh

Nov. 18 (Bloomberg) -- Myanmar is unlikely to face a call for sanctions or even a public rebuke over its crackdown on democracy protestors when leaders of 10 Southeast Asian nations discuss the military junta in Singapore this week, analysts said.

Rights groups, Western governments and lawmakers in the region have called for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to take a stronger stance against Myanmar following September's crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in which more than 100 people died, according to the United Nations.

Asean governments have so far rebuffed that call, and another to strengthen the constitution the group is expected to adopt, its first in 40 years.

``I don't think there will be any public statements or rebuke on the situation in Myanmar,'' said Hiro Katsumata, a regional analyst at Singapore's Institute of Defense and Stategic Studies. ``Any Asean meeting is largely ceremonial. That is the purpose of this summit, too, to display the unity of the members. I don't think we will see any strong statement or outrage.''

Still Myanmar will dominate discussions by Asean leaders from Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. It has a combined population of 570 million and gross domestic product of about $1 trillion. China, South Korea, Japan, and Australia will also be at the summit.

In its 40-year history, Asean has upheld dual policies of non- interference in member countries' affairs and decision-making by consensus among all members, both of which are included in a draft of the charter. The draft has a provision that allows Asean to form a human rights body.

Hundreds Detained

``I call on Asean next week to give teeth to the Asean Charter by appointing a human rights rapporteur or monitor,'' Malaysian opposition leader Lim Kit Siang said in an e-mailed statement. This is to ``ensure Asean nations, in particular Myanmar, respect the human rights commitments enunciated in the Asean charter.''

Asean admitted Myanmar in 1997 against opposition from the U.S. and the European Union. Myanmar's military junta is also under fire for its detention of hundreds of political prisoners, including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition's leader.

Asean Secretary General Ong Keng Yong has admitted the situation in Myanmar has dampened the ``positive vibes'' surrounding the Singapore summit.

The draft of the charter showed that the group has rejected proposals by a 10-person group of ``Eminent Persons'' to censure, ban or expel errant members by vote.

``Indeed, there have been strident calls to bring down the military regime,'' Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo said last month. Sanctions or expulsion of Myanmar from Asean ``would make national reconciliation harder, not easier to achieve,'' Yeo added.

Sanctions Rejected

He also said that sanctions, like those recently imposed by the U.S. and the EU, would have limited impact on the junta, which has ruled the country formerly known as Burma since 1962.

``We don't believe sanctions work, we have never believed in that,'' said former Indonesian foreign minister Ali Alatas, a member of Asean's ``Eminent Persons Group,'' in an interview with Bloomberg. ``But we have to admit that our approach also has not yielded the kind of results that we have wanted to see. It's much too slow, and therefore we have to see what we can do at the summit.''

Even if international pressure led to elections, said Indonesian Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono in an interview, the military's role would be paramount in the country.

``For all its faults, the military at the moment remains the unifying force,'' Sudarsono said, ``and covers most of the levers of power, political, economic and also cultural.''

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he would try to get Asean to agree to a series of set principles on Myanmar at a Asean-EU summit on Nov. 22.

`Push Myanmar'

``Words can only get us so far. We have to see the effort, consistently, pushing Myanmar in the right direction,'' said Simon Tay, the chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

``Asean can no longer be used by the military junta as a cover,'' said Singapore parliamentarian Charles Chong. ``We have tried softer means of persuasion for more than 10 years already without much success and it is really time to take a fresh approach.''

``They talk big, but there will be no implementation,'' said Katsumata of the Institute of Defense and Stategic Studies. ``Asean is slow to implement anything they talk about.''

To contact the reporter on this story: En-Lai Yeoh in Singapore at at

Last Updated: November 17, 2007 22:34 EST