Myanmar rejects calls to forego ASEAN chair

Associated Press

Cebu, April 10:

Myanmar rejected international calls that it be deprived of ASEAN’s chairmanship next year unless it takes concrete steps toward democracy.

Arriving for the annual retreat of Association of Southeast Asian Nations foreign ministers yesterday, Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win was asked about growing opposition to his country taking the chair of the regional trade bloc due to its spotty human rights record.

“That is their attitude. It is not ours. We can decide ourselves because we are an independent country,” Nyan Win said, adding that the chairmanship “is our responsibility.” While Nyan Win claimed the other members of the 10-nation ASEAN feel the same way, the issue of Myanmar’s chairmanship appears certain to be the hot topic at the retreat on the central Philippine resort island of Mactan.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo said he would reiterate calls for Myanmar to free pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, craft a constitution with inputs from the political opposition and allow a UN special envoy to revisit.

“The roadmap to democracy is what we’ve been pursuing,” Romulo told reporters, adding he remained optimistic that a consensus would be reached despite the expected tough haggling.

The foreign ministers are expected to meet over dinner today, then closet themselves for their annual informal retreat tomorrow.

Nyan Win was expected to brief his counterparts about democratic reforms in Myanmar.

Exiled Myanmar pro-democracy politicians warn that their country’s military rulers would likely try to pacify international criticism with superficial reforms and more empty promises.