Burma's leaders are in for a torrid time at this year's Asean summit in
The leaders of Burma's Asian neighbours will almost certainly
increase the pressure on Rangoon to free pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been in detention for more than four months.
"We will be demanding the immediate release of the country's opposition
leader," Cambodia's prime minister said before he left Phnom
Penh for the summit.
Khin Nyunt has said he needs more time
The failure of the United Nations envoy Razali Ismail to secure any concessions during his mission to Rangoon last week means that Asean will have to take the initiative.
"Asean's credibility, Asean's image and Asean's international standing could be
affected if we are not seen to be looking at the situation in Myanmar (Burma)," said the organisation's Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong on the eve of the summit.
The Asian leaders will try to impress upon the Burmese leaders that
there must be significant political change before 2006, when Burma is due take over the presidency of the organisation.
"The rest of Asean would find it totally unacceptable to have an authoritarian military regime acting as the chairman of the group," said a senior Malaysian diplomat.
Burma's new prime minister General Khin Nyunt is expected to brief all the
other leaders at the summit to outline the details of his plans to
introduce democracy to the country.
His very first meeting will be
with the out-going Malaysian Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohammad.
He is likely to be given a very hard time by the Malaysian leader, according to
sources in Kuala Lumpur, because of Burma's failure to introduce even a small measure of economic reform.
The Japanese prime minister has also declared his intentions to demand that
the regime free Aung San Suu Kyi immediately and unconditionally.
The key priority for Asean countries is to find ways to help Khin Nyunt break Burma's prolonged political deadlock.
There has been international outrage at Ms Suu Kyi's detention
"For Aung San Suu Kyi, all issues remain negotiable, provided the regime
starts real political talks with her," said a western diplomat.
The main problem is that Burma's top generals are either not prepared - or
just not willing - to negotiate with the opposition leader.
"It seems the top still haven't agreed on what to do," said a western diplomat.
The crucial issue for the region and the international community as a whole
is whether Burma's generals - especially Khin Nyunt and Than Shwe - are prepared to give Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party a central role in the national reconciliation process.
If they are excluded, then the roadmap will lack any credibility.
Khin Nyunt told Mr Razali during his Rangoon visit that he needed more time to be able to prepare for political change.
But time is running out for the generals to prove they are sincere about political and economic change.
Even the countries of Southeast Asia will not accept promises without
"We do not want the national reconciliation process to be derailed, but we have also stated that there cannot be an open-ended situation - not knowing
when Aung San Suu Kyi will be totally released," said Malaysia's foreign
minister Syed Hamid Albar.
Asean may be prepared to be patient with Rangoon a little longer.
are strong signs in several of the region's capitals that if there is no
major change in Burma within the next year, expelling it from the
organisation could become a real option.