Page last updated at 07:00 GMT, Monday, 21 July 2008 08:00 UK

Asean delivers rare Burma rebuke

Foreign ministers at the opening of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) forum in Singapore
Asean is normally reluctant to criticise member states

South East Asian nations have issued their strongest rebuke ever to Burma's military rulers, as their annual meeting opens in Singapore.

The Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) expressed "deep disappointment" at the detention of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

And the organisation called for Burma's generals to hold "meaningful dialogue" with opposition figures.

Burma's rulers have shown few signs of opening up since joining Asean in 1997.

But the bloc is generally reluctant to speak out about the internal affairs of its member states - instead favouring quiet diplomacy.

The BBC's Jonathan Head, at the Singapore meeting, says this policy of constructive engagement appears to have run its course with the Burmese generals.

'Emboldened' group

Meanwhile, Burma's Foreign Minister Nyan Win hinted on the fringes of the meeting that Ms Suu Kyi could be freed in six months.

But the generals have released the Nobel Peace Prize winner several times in the past - only to re-arrest her soon after.

She has now spent more than 12 of the last 18 years under house arrest.

Burmese cyclone survivors on boat, Irrawaddy Delta
Asean pressured Burma to allow in aid after the cyclone hit
Asean's recent mediation in the aftermath of the impact of Cyclone Nargis will also be on the agenda.

The organisation was praised for its role in convincing Burma to allow international aid and aid workers into the country, overturning an initial ban on foreign help in the days after the cyclone struck.

Our correspondent says the bloc's success in matters relating to the cyclone may have influenced its bolder-than-usual approach to Burma in Singapore.

Preventing conflict

Another issue the ministers are tackling is the escalating tension between two other member states - Thailand and Cambodia.

Troops from both countries have been sent to a disputed border area containing the ancient temples of Preah Vihear.

On Monday, Asean called for "utmost caution and restraint" from both sides.

The foreign ministers will also discuss the bloc's new charter, which supposedly enshrines respect for human rights and is expected to be signed by all members - even Burma - by the end of the year.

But our correspondent says the rationale for this association has always been less about what it does than what it aims to prevent - conflict among its 10 member states and domination by powers like the United States, China and India.

And bigger regional issues on the sidelines of this summit - notably a meeting of foreign ministers from the six parties to the North Korean nuclear talks - are still likely to overshadow anything that Asean itself announces, he adds.

Asean is composed of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Burma, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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