Foreign leaders hail Asean’s tough stand

MYANMAR CRACKDOWN

All eyes now on India and China, to see how they can help resolve crisis.

FOREIGN leaders have been quick to commend Asean for its tough stand on Myanmar, with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner describing the regional grouping as the “strongest tool” to deal with the crisis.

Mr Kouchner told journalists that the statement by Asean chairman George Yeo, Singapore’s Foreign Minister, in New York on Thursday was a victory for the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar.

“This is a success for democracy and this is a success for the demonstrators in Myanmar,” he said. “The statement was very strong, incendiary…Asean is the only group that can influence the government, and I think they can influence China.”

In unusually blunt language for the organisation, Asean foreign ministers in their statement said they were “appalled to receive reports of automatic weapons being used” on crowds and demanded that the military junta in Myanmar “immediately desist from the use of violence against demonstrators”.

Washington, which has imposed sanctions on key military figures in Myanmar, also took note of Asean’s position.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the Asean reaction “a very good statement” when she concluded a meeting with the Asean ministers on Thursday.

“I can just assure you that the United States is determined to keep an international focus on the travesty that is taking place in Rangoon,” she said.

With Asean having made clear its stand, all eyes have turned to China and India, Myanmar’s two giant neighbours, to help resolve the problem in the country.

Both countries broke their silence over the regime’s handling of the pro-democracy protests on Thursday, urging Myanmar’s ruling generals to exercise restraint.

Following criticism over the lack of any public expression of concern, India issued a statement saying that the “process of political return and national reconciliation (in Myanmar) should be more inclusive and broad-based”.

Beijing, despite having earlier blocked calls for punitive action at the United Nations, urged its close ally in Yangon to respond “appropriately”.

Speaking to The Straits Times on the sidelines of the UN meeting, Mr Yeo said he believed that China would be putting pressure for change in Myanmar away from the public glare.

He said: “That is the way they do things.”

Mr Yeo said that it was imperative now for all interested parties to support the UN Secretary-General’s special envoy Ibrahim Gambari, who had links to both the junta and the opposition.

Mr Gambari, who is passing through Singapore on his way to Myanmar, met officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) yesterday.

An MFA spokesman said: “They reiterated Singapore’s strong support for Mr Gambari’s mission to Myanmar and expressed hope that the Myanmar authorities would give him and the UN their full cooperation so as to find a peaceful resolution to the situation in Myanmar.”

Mr Yeo noted that provided there is sufficient support from Yangon, “there is a possibility, but not a high probability, that the situation can calm down”.

“The process of negotiation can then begin which eventually should engage all political groups in the country and make more conducive a process of national reconciliation,” he said. “But it will take time. It won’t be easy.”

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