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Last Updated: Friday, 21 July 2006, 05:26 GMT 06:26 UK
Burma 'holding SE Asia hostage'
By Jonathan Kent
BBC News, Kuala Lumpur

Woman holding poster of Aung San Suu Kyi
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is under house arrest
Malaysia's foreign minister has accused the Burmese junta of holding its South East Asian neighbours hostage by refusing to reform.

Syed Hamid Albar said Burma's stance was jeopardising the region's relations with the rest of the world.

Speaking ahead of next week's meeting of foreign ministers from the 10 Asean nations, he said the group could no longer come to Burma's defence.

These are the harshest comments so far from Malaysia, the current Asean chair.

At one time Malaysia was Burma's leading champion within the group.

Syed Hamid said that Asean ( the Association of South-East Asian Nations) had now reached the point where it could not defend Burma, because the country was making no attempt to co-operate with its neighbours or to help itself.

Burma's lack of progress towards democracy is threatening to derail Asean's relations with the European Union and the United States, he said.

Syed Hamid called on China and India - two countries he described as friends of Burma - to bring pressure to bear on the ruling junta.

His remarks seem to reflect the widely held belief within Asean that Beijing and Delhi's attempts to woo Burma's military rulers have blunted South East Asian attempts to push for reform.

Syed Hamid was personally rebuffed when he led an Asean delegation to Burma earlier this year, and was refused permission to meet the country's opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest.

The foreign minister's remarks were made in a speech delivered on his behalf to the Asean inter-parliamentary Myanmar [Burma] caucus.

The group of South East Asian legislators has called for Burma's suspension from Asean if it fails to demonstrate that it is moving towards democracy.

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