Burma Closer to Chairing ASEAN, Marty Says

09 November, 2011 | Source: The Jakarta Globe

Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa on Tuesday said there was a strong sense within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that Burma, also known as Myanmar, could chair the regional grouping in 2014.

Marty told reporters that in July, during the last foreign ministerial meeting of the 10 members of Asean, there was already an “overwhelming sense” that the group should positively consider Burma’s application to chair the group in two years’ time.

Burma, which has a nominally civilian leadership dominated by former generals, wants to take the Asean chair in 2014, swapping with Laos, which was due to take the post in that year.

Burma previously passed up its turn in 2006.

“If you asked me whether we would back Myanmar or not, I am afraid I could not give you a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer,” Marty said.

Asean leaders are scheduled to make a decision during their Nov. 17-19 summit in Bali.

“But if I were asked how we feel about that in November compared to how we felt in July and how we felt in May, we feel more positive about it, because I have seen this trajectory of positive developments.”

With Indonesia the current chair of Asean, Marty last month visited Burma to assess its appropriateness to chair the group. He was quoted as saying that he had been encouraged by recent reforms there.

Hopes of political change in Burma have increased recently, with efforts by the new government to reach out to opponents including pro-democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi.

The new government also eased censorship, unblocked banned Web sites, allowed Internet access for Suu Kyi and dropped its routine broadsides against foreign broadcasters. It also legalized labor unions and the provision of the right to strike.

In a dramatic move, President Thein Sein’s government suspended a controversial China-built hydropower dam project on Sept. 30 because it was “against the will of the people.”

Ethnic activists and environmentalists had denounced the dam, while Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy also had taken up the issue.

The reforms signaled an important foreign policy shift, as Burma has been a source of embarrassment for Asean’s more democratic states.

As chair of Asean, Burma would speak on behalf of the bloc and host scores of meetings including the East Asia Summit, which includes the United States.

The United States and European Union have imposed broad sanctions against Burma for alleged human rights abuses.



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