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Anwar trial will hurt Asean unity

Subject: Anwar trial will hurt  Asean unity -- Surin 


      Anwar trial will hurt
      Asean unity -- Surin

      THE trial of former Malaysian deputy
      premier Anwar Ibrahim could damage the
      unity and bargaining power of Asean,
      Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan said

      In what was seen as the strongest reaction
      from the Thai government on Anwar's trial,
      Surin said though it was Malaysia's internal
      problem, it had far-reaching implications for
      the Southeast Asian region and Asean
      member states in particular. 

      ''Several nations have expressed their
      concerns over the issue which could
      possibly affect Asean's unity and image,''
      Surin said. 

      ''Malaysia's action [involving Anwar] is
      hindering Asean unity which could
      decrease the group's bargaining power in
      international negotiations. 

      ''Asean is working hard to prevent the
      impact of the ongoing economic crises
      from affecting Asean unity in an attempt to
      preserve our capacity to negotiate.'' 

      However, he stressed, ''I want to insist that
      my opinion is based on good faith, and it
      must be clear that we are expressing
      ourselves in good faith for the sake of

      Thailand would raise the issue at the
      upcoming summit of Asia Pacific
      Economic Cooperation (Apec) leaders to
      be held in Kuala Lumpur this month and the
      Asean summit in Vietnam next month. 

      Surin's comments were in sharp contrast to
      those of Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai
      who recently urged leaders attending the
      Apec to discuss the Anwar issue behind
      closed doors. 

      Chuan has avoided criticising Malaysia's
      handling of Anwar out of fear that it could
      adversely affect relationship with its
      immediate neighbour. 

      Anwar's trial on 10 counts of corruption and
      sexual misconduct began on Monday. The
      judge hearing the case has refused to grant
      representatives of international human
      rights groups special status as observers
      though they are not banned from witnessing
      the trial. They just have to compete with
      Anwar supporters for seats in the crowded

      Surin has strongly pushed for a review of
      Asean's non-interference policy, citing that
      many problems pertaining to a particular
      country have ramifications for other
      countries. He proposed that Asean adopt a
      ''flexible engagement'' policy which
      encourages dialogue on political issues of
      mutual concern. 

      His proposal has been supported only by
      the Philippines. 

      The Nation