ASEAN Governments must press SLORC to release all political detainees before Burmaís admission to ASEAN next month

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): The death of a democracy advocate detained by Burmaís military junta on Sunday has again highlighted the repressive nature of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) and reinforced regional disgust at the recent decision of the ASEAN Foreign Ministersí Informal Meeting to approve Burmaís admission into ASEAN next month.

Tin Shwe, a 67-year-old organizer for Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, died on Sunday at Rangoon General Hospital.

Tin Shwe, a lawyer and well-known writer from Monywa, 380 miles northwest of Rangoon, was also a prominent student activist during the democracy revolt of 1962.

He had been arrested as he gave food to Buddhist monks in a commemoration of victims in a failed democracy uprising three years earlier, where Burma's military government suppressed the uprising by gunning down more than 3,000 unarmed civilians.

Tin Shwe spent quite some time in jail before being tried and sentenced to 10 years that was extended to 15 years.

SLORC said Tin Shwe was arrested for "his involvement in the instigation of civil unrest and for the attempt to form the parallel government."

ASEAN Governments must lodge an official protest with SLORC over the death of Tin Shwe and press SLORC to release all political detainees before Burmaís admission into ASEAN next month.

If there is no improvement in the human rights position in Burma in the next seven weeks, ASEAN governments must seriously consider reviewing its decision to admit Burma into the regional grouping.

It is pertinent to note that a leading Philippines newspaper, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, said on Sunday that the decision by ASEAN to admit Burma, Cambodia and Laos has "sowed the seeds of discord" that could disrupt the groupís solidarity.

In an editorial, the Philippines daily wrote: "Burmaís accession opened cracks in the wall of ASEAN solidarity that were papered over by the official statement."

It said the decision to admit the three countries was opposed by the Philippines and Thailand, while Singapore had reservations on economic grounds and that "for the first time in its 30-year history, ASEAN was not one big happy, harmonious family".

It said the inclusion of the three would merely expand ASEANís scope "without deepening the basis of its solidarity".

"Burma injects the potential for intra-ASEAN conflicts over issues related to the groupís relatons with the West and China."

It added that ASEANís decision was not based on "cold calculations of the strategic advantage of the accession" but as a message by some ASEAN states to the West to refrain from interfering in regional affairs on the issues of human rights and democracy.

"By rushing the accession of Burma, Cambodia and Laos, ASEAN had to pay a price to spite the West: it created a two-track ASEAN, one composed of more developed economies and another composed of less developed economies."

ASEAN nations have the right to tell the West off whether on the Burma or other issues, but it is the height of irresponsibility in regional and international relations to compromise the reputation of ASEAN by condoning and legitimising the gross violation of human rights in Burma just to spite the West.


*Lim Kit Siang - Malaysian Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Democratic Action Party Secretary-General & Member of Parliament for Tanjong