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ASEAN welcomes US engagement with Myanmar


Cha-am (Thailand) : The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Sunday welcomed a new US policy of engagement with Myanmar, saying it was the right approach to dealing with a member of its club considered a pariah by many Western nations.

“The one thing we are completely agreed upon is that we welcome signs of further engagement on the part of various regions in response to some of the developments in Myanmar,” Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said after the conclusion of the three-days ASEAN summit and related events in Cha-am, 130 km southwest of Bangkok.

US President Barack Obama has encouraged a policy of engagement with Myanmar since coming to power, although the US has not dropped economic sanctions on the pariah state.

ASEAN has long advocated engagement with Myanmar, a member of the regional grouping since 1997, as the best tactic for encouraging the military-run country to implement political reforms.

To date, ASEAN engagement has failed to pressure Myanmar to free opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent 14 of the past 20 years under house arrest. She was recently sentenced to another 18 months of detention.

There are other 2,300 political prisoners in Myanmar, some of them serving 100-year-long sentences.

Myanmar’s Prime Minister Thein Sein reiterated his regime’s intention to hold a general election next year, for which the junta will promulgate a new election law soon. The election is part of its seven-step road map to democracy.

“ASEAN has always argued that engagement is the right approach and we feel that if everyone takes this engagement approach we would be encouraging Myanmar in the successful implementation of her road map,” Abhisit said.

Myanmar’s junta recently allowed Suu Kyi to hold talks with foreign diplomats in Yangon about raising economic sanctions on the country, raising hopes that she and other political prisoners will be freed before the election is held.

“They recognise full well that the rest of the world expects to see an election that is as inclusive as possible,” Abhisit said of the junta.

Myanmar has been ruled by military regimes since 1962.