Myanmar blasted in ASEM talks for detaining political prisoners

Source: Mainichi Shimbun (Japan)
Source type: Newspaper
Published on: 06 Oct 2010

BRUSSELS (Kyodo) -- The military-ruled Myanmar was blasted Tuesday by several countries from the European Union for detaining political prisoners, and many fear the upcoming election in the country will not be free and fair.
Among the countries that made strong remarks criticizing Myanmar at the Asia-Europe Meeting in Brussels were Britain and the Netherlands, while Mongolia, from the Asian side, joined hands with them to blame the junta government, diplomatic sources told Kyodo News.

Britain said that the current government in Myanmar is a military regime and has failed to cooperate with the United Nations, according to the sources.

London was also quoted as telling other ASEM leaders that more than 2,000 people are still under detention and thus it is unlikely that the "election will be free and fair," saying it is "a complete disgrace."

In concluding the remarks during the summit talks, Britain suggested that Myanmar should release the country's pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, the sources said.

The Netherlands also urged Myanmar to attach importance to freedom of movement and freedom of expression and to release those under detention, while Mongolia questioned Myanmar why there have been so many people being detained in prisons and whether Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy will be allowed to take part in the Nov. 7 election, according to the sources.

Mongolia, meanwhile, expressed its sympathy to Suu Kyi in light of the fact that she has been under house arrest or in jail for much of last two decades, and asked why she continues to "suffer a lot in this country."

While facing the critical statements from the European partners, Myanmar gently responded by saying that the "election will be conducted in a free and fair manner and inclusive," but did not further elaborate, the sources said.

Myanmar's Foreign Minister Nyan Win, the country's only top-level official invited by the European Union to the summit, was quoted as briefly replying that the election will be joined by 27 political parties and many people will be voting.

The European Union was not originally happy sitting and working face-to-face with Myanmar's top leaders and, therefore, participants of the ASEM summit in Vietnam in 2006 decided to allow only a foreign ministerial-level official from the country to take part in any later ASEM summit meetings.

In a chairman's statement of the latest ASEM summit which just wrapped up late Tuesday afternoon, the ASEM chiefs "encouraged the government of Myanmar to take the necessary measures to ensure that these elections would be free, fair and inclusive, and would mark a step towards a legitimate, constitutional, civilian system of government."

"The timely release of those under detention would contribute to these elections to be more inclusive, participatory and transparent" and they "also touched upon the issue of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi," the statement said.

Some said it is considered quite unusual for Myanmar to allow the call for a "legitimate, constitutional" government in the chair's statement and also allow the mention by name of Suu Kyi.
The European Union has long been the most vociferous in demanding Myanmar mend its ways.

Besides particular topics on human rights and democracy in Myanmar, the ASEM leaders also touched on various global issues and problems during their two-day talks, including the strengthening of partnerships between the two blocs of Asia and Europe, the economic governance, climate change, sustainable development, piracy at sea, reform of the United Nations and nuclear nonproliferation.

ASEM, launched in 1996, is composed of 46 countries -- the 27 members of the European Union and the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, plus Australia, China, India, Japan, Mongolia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Russia and South Korea as well as two organizations.

-From Mainichi Shimbun