NEWS

Gambari tells Asean: Turn rhetoric into real action

Published
Modified 29 Jan 2008, 10:21 am

A UN envoy met with Malaysian leaders today as he enlists Southeast Asia's help to push for democratic reforms in Burma, with a source saying he wants "real action" from regional powers.

The diplomatic source who was briefed by UN troubleshooter Ibrahim Gambari said he wants to "see what Asean governments are really prepared to do" to resolve the crisis in Burma following its violent crackdown on dissent.

"It is not enough for Asean countries to make statements expressing concern. They must now work together with the UN, China and India," the source told AFP , referring to the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

"Gambari wants Asean to be really involved in monitoring what is happening in Myanmar (the junta's new name for Burma), not just statements from conference to conference."

"Press statements are not enough. Asean countries must be willing to take real action."

The source was briefed by Gambari in Malaysia, where the UN envoy arrived on Tuesday as part of a regional tour.

Meeting with Pak Lah

He met today with Malaysia's Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar and was due to hold a press conference later in the day.

The regime in Burma has come under heavy international pressure since it violently suppressed pro-democracy protests led by Buddhist monks last month, triggering condemnation from around the world.

Gambari's Asian tour is aimed at increasing pressure on the ruling junta to halt its crackdown on the peaceful rallies, release political detainees and launch talks with the pro-democracy opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

The diplomatic source said the envoy wanted Southeast Asian governments - who have been criticised in the past for failing to tackle their troublesome neighbour - to step up to a new level of engagement on Burma.

"Asean members must be persistent and monitor, and make sure that expected discussions between the Myanmar government and the opposition and other parties actually take place," he said.

"In the past, this was all left to the Myanmar government. This must now change."

Syed Hamid said yesterday after his first meeting with Gambari that the envoy had the full support of Asean, but that the bloc would never suspend Burma from the grouping.

"If you want Myanmar to continue to be engaged, first we should not be talking about suspending. Nobody can talk when you are threatening with all sorts of things," he said.

Membership sponsored by KL

Malaysia sponsored Burma to join Asean in 1997, but has recently become highly critical of the ruling generals, who snubbed Syed Hamid during a visit last year.

However, Syed Hamid said Burma's neighbours must work to prevent the impoverished nation from becoming even more internationally isolated, notably by fostering dialogue between it and the United Nations.

Burma indicated yesterday it would continue to be impervious to outside pressure, even as Japan cut aid and European nations widened sanctions.

And today it stepped up its rhetoric, blaming Buddhist monks for the crackdown on anti-government protesters as it admitted nearly 3,000 people had been detained over the rallies.

Gambari said in Bangkok this week on the first leg of his trip that reports of further arrests of activists by the military regime were "extremely disturbing."

He is due to fly on to Indonesia, India, China and Japan. He aims to return to Burma by mid-November.

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