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Last Updated: Monday, 6 October, 2003, 11:25 GMT 12:25 UK
Burma in for rough ride at summit

By Larry Jagan
BBC Burma analyst

Burma's leaders are in for a torrid time at this year's Asean summit in Bali.

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.

Burma's new Prime Minister General Khin Nyunt
Khin Nyunt has said he needs more time
"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.

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.

Rocky reception

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.

Burmese pro-democracy supporter outside the Japanese Foreign Ministry in Tokyo
There has been international outrage at Ms Suu Kyi's detention
The key priority for Asean countries is to find ways to help Khin Nyunt break Burma's prolonged political deadlock.

"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 reform indefinitely.

"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.

But there 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.


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