(Petaling Jaya, Friday): The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad should exert his influence as a key leader in ASEAN on the ruling State Peace Development Council (SPDC) to have genuine dialogue with the leadership of National League for Democracy (NLD) and ethnic minorities to seek the best solution to the problems faced by Burma during his visit to Rangoon from 9th to 10th March 1998.
The Secretary General of NLD Aung San Suu Kyi has been calling for dialogue with the military junta for many years and has expressed her willingness to work with SPDC to solve the problems faced by Burma, but the military junta has been ignoring her call and has shown its insincerity in its superficial dialogue with NLD last year which purportedly excluded the key leaders of NLD, especially Aung San Suu Kyi, U Kyi Maung and U Tin Oo.
It is clear that there has been no improvement in the political and economic situation in Burma since it was admitted into ASEAN in July 1997. The universities have been closed for more than 16 months, the value of the currency of Burma, kyats continue to drop by more than 100 percent with the staggering 40 percent inflation, besides the continuation of human rights abuses in all parts of that country. The only change made by the military junta after being admitted into ASEAN was the change of name from State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) to State Peace Development Council (SPDC) in last November which brings no significant changes to the policies and system of that country.
The continuation of human rights violation and deterioration of economic situation in Burma after the admission of Burma into ASEAN for about 8 months just show to the international community that the Constructive Engagement policy of ASEAN has failed. The Constructive Engagement policy with Burma has been seen as a lip service of ASEAN rather than a sincere engagement policy with the military junta of Burma in bringing betterment of social and political reforms to the suffering people of Burma.
Being one of the strong advocates of Constructive Engagement policy with Burma in ASEAN, Dr. Mahathir has the duty to exert pressure on SPDC to speed up the process of national reconciliation and restoration of democratic and civilian rule in that country, because the political instability of a member state will eventually cause instability to the ASEAN region, especially during this period of economic turmoil of the region. Besides, ASEAN has the duty to prove to the international community that the policy of Constructive Engagement will bear fruit, and will eventually bring greater liberty and betterment to the life of the people of Burma.