Associated Press

Kuala Lumpur, June 13:

Allowing military-ruled Myanmar to chair ASEAN next year could speed up the process of democratic reform, the group’s secretary-general said today. Myanmar is due to take over the rotating chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, in 2006. But the United States and European Union fiercely oppose the move and have threatened to boycott ASEAN meetings and stall the bloc’s development funding if Myanmar assumes the chair. “If Myanmar chairs ASEAN, then there will be constant international attention on this situation in Myanmar, and there will be a certain amount of pressure in moving the national reconciliation and democratisation process,” ASEAN Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong said.

“But if they are out of the chair, then for the next one or two years, they won’t be on the radar scope. This is the downside,” he said.

The junta took power in 1988 after brutally crushing a pro-democracy movement. In 1990, it refused to hand over power when the National League for Democracy party, led by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, won a landslide victory in general elections. Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for much of the past 14 years. Myanmar is also facing pressure from within ASEAN - parliamentarians from Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines have demanded that it give up its bid to lead the 10-nation bloc unless it releases Suu Kyi, improves

human rights and introduces democratic reforms. Ong said Myanmar would make a final decision on whether it would take up the chairmanship at the ASEAN foreign ministers’ summit in Laos next month. “Up to now, the reaction of the Myanmar leaders and representations they have made on the issue have been positive. They have been listening and did not react in a negative way,” he added.