ASEAN Ministers Fail to Reach Consensus on Changes in Burma

Foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN, have failed to reach a consensus on how to push ASEAN member Burma towards democratic reforms.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said he and his fellow ministers agreed on one thing: they could not find a way to force ASEAN member Burma to move towards democracy.

The ministers, meeting on Indonesia's Bali Island, rejected calls by human rights activists and regional lawmakers to kick Burma out of the association, despite its failure to institute long promised democratic reforms.

Thai foreign minister Kantathi Suphamonkorn says ASEAN would like to see the military government in Burma, also called Myanmar, move towards reconciliation with its pro-democracy opposition.

"What we would like to do is see movement in Myanmar towards national reconciliation, with a good clear time frame, and we would like Myanmar to be able to participate fully with the work of the international community," he said.

At the moment, Burma is an international outcast. The United States, the European Union and the United Nations have repeatedly called for the Burmese government to institute democratic reforms, and the United States and the European Union have imposed economic sanctions on the country.

Burma has been under military rule since 1962. The opposition National League for Democracy, led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, overwhelmingly won general elections in 1990, but was never allowed to take power.

Teresa Kok is secretary of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus, a group of individual Southeast Asian lawmakers pressing for regime change in Burma. She says ASEAN has treated the Burmese generals too leniently.

"Our general feeling is that ASEAN governments have not done enough over the years, ever since they invited Burma to come into ASEAN, they have been too nice to them," she said. "The constructive engagement policy by ASEAN has failed, and now they do not know what stand to take."

ASEAN, which admitted Burma in 1997, has a long-standing policy of non-interference in other members' internal affairs.

But the international attention on Burma has become an embarrassment for the organization, and individually and collectively, the member states have become increasingly vocal about the need for reform there.

Hamid, the Malaysian minister, said as two days of talks that focused largely on Burma ended, that ASEAN's policy of non-interference should be reviewed.