ASEAN to keep pushing Myanmar for democracy progress

Southeast Asian nations want to push Myanmar to build on its recent election.

Senggigi: Southeast Asian nations want to push Myanmar this year to build on its recent election and release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi by including her in the political system, they said on Sunday.

The moves by Myanmar, a politically isolated state that has often been an international embarrassment the region, have given it a veneer of democracy but have not loosened its military rulers` firm grip on power.

The release of Suu Kyi should be a precursor for moves toward greater democracy, said Indonesia`s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa.

"She is some part of the solution not the problem," Natalegawa said during a meeting of Southeast Asian foreign ministers on Lombok island in Indonesia. "Developments must not be allowed to dissipate."

The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), whose 10 members include Myanmar, has a policy of non-interference in member`s domestic affairs and has tried engaging with Myanmar rather than imposing sanctions as the West has done.

Myanmar`s November election, resulting in a landslide win for an army-backed party after allegations of fraud, left Suu Kyi with no political role, though analysts say she may now be more of an asset for the generals in efforts to ease international sanctions.

Indonesia, chair of ASEAN in 2011, wants progress this year, Natalegawa said, after the topic was among the first to be discussed at the three-day meet.

Regional ASEAN summits, aimed at building an economic community by 2015 that would encompass some 500 million people and some of the world`s fastest growing economies, have often been overshadowed by controversy over the Myanmar junta.

"We have been promised that Myanmar will cease to be a problem for ASEAN in its engagement with the international community," said ASEAN secretary general Surin Pitsuwan, after talks between ministers. He said ASEAN was seeking greater access to Myanmar`s leaders.

Pitsuwan said Myanmar would like to take the chairmanship of ASEAN in 2014, though for that to happen there would need to be international confidence in its stability.

Greater integration with Myanmar would also lead to investment, he said, with the group eyeing areas such as a road link to India, food production, energy generation, and tourism.

Bureau Report

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