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News article fr India news paper(Th

Friends set up pressure

As the International Monetary Fund's rescue package seeks to restore
investor confidence in Southeast and East Asia, hopes have been raise in
Myanmar of the possibility of the political dialogue beginning soon than

 The Philippines, as Chairman of the ASEAN (Association of South East
Asian Nation) Standing Committee this year, has taken the initiative to
nudge the military junta in Yangoon asking it to think seriously about
holding a dialogue with the pro-democracy movement. During his first
state visit recently, the Philippines President, Mr. Fidel Ramos,
broached the question of reconslation between the generals and the Nobel
laureate, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi. Mr. Ramos wanted to see Ms. Aung San Suu
Kyi but his doing so could have been a snub to the junta. So, he got his
Foreign Secretary, Mr. Domingo Siazon, to meet her.

However not many details came of that meeting. Even the fact that it
took place was disclosed only a few weeks later. Now official in Malasia
dropped another hint - that Ms. Suu Kyi favored and endorsed an ASIAN
mediatory more was known about that proposal.

ASIAN sources said the pressure on the grouping had been increasing
every since Myanmar was admitted to the forum. " Before they joined, we
were told to put off the admission until the generals agreed to
restoration of democracy. Now we are being told that development
partnership, especially for the Indochina or Mekong programmme, will be
related to developments they want to see in Myanmar. We have to tell to
the generals clearly that they must start acting now", they explained.

This threat to the ASEAN came not merely from the limited sanctions
clamped on Myanmar by the U.S. but also from the European Union. The EU
make it clear to the ASEAN that the region-to-region dialogue could not
take place if Myanmar was present as an ASEAN full member. The ASEAN was
upset at the EU stance and argued that since Myanmar was already a
member, it could not agree to any discrimination. The ASEAN-EU meeting,
scheduled for last month in Bangkok, was therefore put off indefinitely.

 A more serious problem was also in the making. Malasia raised the
stakes, suggesting that the ASEAN boycott the Asia Europe meeting(ASEM),
slated for April in London. A couple of ASEAN countries, including
Singapore, politely rejected this idea, arguing that the ASEM had
nothing to do with the ASEAN-EU dialogue or ties. The ASEM, through an
ASEAN initiative, was for individual countries. Unfortunately, in this
ball game, expansion of the ASEM- including the possibility of India
getting next year- may become a casualty. If countries like Malasia
insist on Myanmar's admission, the EU may refuse any expansion  until
after the generals are prepare to restore democracy.

The message had already gone home to Yangoon that it should not become
the proverbial albatross around the ASEAN's neck and that the generals
must do something to salvage the grouping's international reputation and
image now. Perhaps the first response from the junta was to dissolve the
State Law and Order Restoration Council and rename it the State Peace
and Development Council. But more concrete steps were imperative.

Now Myanmar was part of the ASEAN, diplomatic and behind - the scenes
efforts were under way to impress on the generals the need for their
being seen as making key changes in the political system, the sources
said. Though changes cannot take place overnight, the ASEAN expected to
push for a dialogue with the opposition, early adoption of a
Constituation and calling of a general election with political parties
invited to contest.

Analysts at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies Singapore said the
" ASEAN will not prescribe what they should do. They may be tantamount
to interference in internal affairs. But ASEAN certainly tells Myanmar
to do something. What the Constitution should be is for Myanmar and its
people decide. If they wanted to adopt Indonesia model and private for a
statutory role for the armed forces in the political and social spheres,
so be it. But the generals will have to seek a public endorsement of the
new constitution and hold an election on that basis. That is what we
expect the ASEAN to do in the next few months. Some changes must be
visible before the annual ASEAN Ministerial Meeting to be held in the
Philippines in July 1998".

The ASEAN would not want to prescribe, true. But the junta would have to
do something credible and, above all, get a mandate from the people.
That alone would give any system or election credibility and legitimacy.
These are two key features missing in governance especially after the
junta refused to recognise the result of an election it conducted in

It would be too late for Myanmar to reconsider its options. Realising
that the policy of isolation was not taking it anywhere, the generals
consciously opted for integration of Myanmar with the region, to being
with. American sanction and European pressure tactics pushed them into
the extended arms of the ASEAN, which anyway wanted to wean Myanmar away
from China's influence.

Dr. Khin Ohn Thant, Adviser of the Minister of National Planing and
Economic Development in Myanmar, who was recently in Singapore for an
ASEAN roundtable, said: " In this age of globalisation and regionalism,
the country realises that it can not continue to remain in isolation. It
needs to identify it delf with a group which will treat it as one of
them, a group which understand and sympathies with Myanmae's views, a
group that will not exploit Myanmar's weak economic situation".

The Adviser said the border trade accounted for 40%of Myanmar's total
trade. Again, 40% of its exports were to the ASEAN countries and 35% of
its imports were from Southeast Asia too. There was a deficit in trade
with all ASEAN countries. In terms of foreign investment, the U.K. was
the leader, followed by Singapore, Thailand and Malasia. With the EU
limitations now in place, the ASEAN and China would remain Myanmar's
main sources for tapping foreign investment, crucial to development and

The future of Myanmar rests with its people and perhaps pro-democracy
movement. The question boils down to how soon the generals could work
out a compromise with Ms. Suu Kyi first to protect their future and next
to think of a power-sharing arrangement. " Talks about talks" must
precede any formal dialogue, with or without ASEAN mediation. For a
meaningful settlement and peace, the generals will have to realise that
the people must given the choice and the right to decide their future -
either with the generals or either the pro-democracy movement.

In Singapore

>From The Hindu
7 December, 1997