PostHeaderIcon Asia's Security Forum Tells Myanmar to Free Prisoners, Admit UN Envoy

Ministers of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) also expressed concern at the slow pace of democratisation in the army-ruled country, according to a joint communique issued at the close of the annual meetings in the Lao capital Vientiane. The ministers "expressed their concern at the pace of democratisation process," the statement said. It also said the ministers "called for the lifting of restrictions and for effective dialogue with all parties concerned. "They also called for an early resumption of the visit to Myanmar by UNSG (UN secretary general) special representative and to continue to cooperate with other relevant UN agencies." Lifting of restrictions is a euphemism ASEAN has used in the past to cloak its demands that Yangon's ruling generals release democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest. Myanmar has been a focus of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meetings as well as security talks with the grouping's dialogue partners such as the United States and the European Union. US and EU pressure, as well as ASEAN backdoor diplomacy, were largely credited for Myanmar's decision announced this week to skip its chance to chair ASEAN for a year from mid-2006. Myanmar's official reason for relinquishing the chair was for the country to focus on the "democratisation process", saying 2006 was a critical year. The junta has launched a reform road map to democracy which critics have dismissed as a sham because it does not include the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy, which won 1990 elections but was never allowed to rule. The UN special envoy to Myanmar, Malaysian diplomat Razali Ismail, had used the ASEAN meeting in Laos to rally support for his readmission to Myanmar. He was last allowed there in March 2004, when he urged the country to "turn over a new page for a credible democratic transitional process." Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win snubbed Razali's request for a meeting on the sidelines of the ASEAN talks, saying he was "too busy". mba/ph/mtp