ASEAN should express grave concern that SLORC is failing its probation to be an ASEAN member with the latest wave of repression by SLORC

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Sunday):
ASEAN should express grave concern at the latest wave of repression by the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) in Burma and set up an ASEAN Human Rights Committee to monitor the human rights situation in Burma.

Malaysian Foreign Minister and Chairman of the Asean Standing Committee Datuk Abdullah Ahmad Badawi should send an emissary to Rangoon to let the Burmese military rulers know that SLORC is failing its probation to be an ASEAN member with the detention of at least five close associates of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi for allegedly smuggling her videotaped speeches abroad.

The SLORC generals may be upset when non-government organisations in ASEAN obtained and used a smuggled videotaped speech by Suu Kyi opposing Burma's inclusion as a member of ASEAN, but this can be no justification for SLORC to be vindictive in launching a new wave of repression in Burma.

It is believed that Suu Kyiís relatives and personal photographer were among those held. Cho Aung Than, a cousin of the Nobel Peace laureate, was picked up for interrogation the previous Friday, while his sister and her husband were arrested a few days later on the same charge. Photographer Ko Suny and Hon Myint, an aging politician who is related to Suu Kyi, were arrested four days ago.

ASEAN government leaders should realise that they are now blamed by the people of Burma for the new round of detentions as a National League for Democracy spokesman had said: "ASEAN will have to bear full responsibility for this because they accepted Burma into the grouping that gives activists nothing but disservice in Burma".

The detentions have confirmed Suu Kyiís fears that if Burma became an ASEAN member it would give the ruling military government a licence to repress the opposition movement and suppress human rights further in the country.

These detentions are not the only instances of a new wave of repression in Burma after the decision by the ASEAN Foreign Ministersí Informal Meeting in Kuala Lumpur at the end of May to admit Burma into ASEAN in July.

It has also been reported that the SLORC National Intelligence Bureau, NIB, (an umbrella bureau of all the intelligence units) had arrested Khin Kyaw and Myo Aung Thant - both officials of Federation of Trade Unions Burma (FTUB).

Myo Aung Thant was arrested on the 13th of June, 1997 at the Mingaladon airport on his return from Bangkok by a NIB team. That NIB team not only arrested Myo Aung Thant but also his wife and children and the others who came to welcome him.

After Myo Aung Thant was arrested, the NIB team arrested Khin Kyaw and his wife at their residence.

Myo Aung Thant and Khin Kyaw have been documenting economic and social hardships of the workers and presenting those information as well as issues concerning forced labor to the international trade union community. They had also been helping the dismissed workers of the 1988 movement.

In this connection, ASEAN governments should take heed of the warning by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) representative in southern Bangladesh, Beat Schuler, of the impending new migration of Myanmar Muslim refugees to Bangladesh propelled by forced labour, excessive taxation, high rice prices and discrimination in their freedom of movement.

Refugee agency sources in Dhaka estimated that up to 400 Rohingyas attempted to cross into Bangadesh on the previous weekend from across the bordering Naaf River, the latest in several recent attempts by groups of Myanmar Muslims.

The picture in Burma is one of general instability and the flagrant disregard of the human rights and fundamental liberties of the people of Burma by SLORC, and this SLORC fear of instability is best exemplified by the unprecedented continued closure of schools across Burma, although classes in Burma should have resumed on June 2 after the traditional school vacation between March and May.

SLORC however has ordered the countryís nearly eight million students to stay home, clearly to prevent any student unrest and demonstration before its entry into ASEAN in July. Parents in Burma are now resigned to not having schools open before August.

Burma must be the first country in the world where its rulers have to keep schools closed for fear of student unrest and protests until it had been formally admitted into an international or regional organisation!

This does no credit either to SLORC or to ASEAN for admitting Burma into the regional organisation.

I would raise in the Malaysian Parliament when it reconvenes on July 14 the issue as to what ASEAN governments had done to convince SLORC that its admission into ASEAN is not a licence for renewed repression and violation of human rights in Burma and what assurances SLORC had given to co-operate with the present ASEAN members to make a success of the ASEAN policy of constructive engagement to pave the way for democratic reforms and national reconciliation in Burma.


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