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Demonstrators stage a skit during a protest outside the Singapore High Commission in Kuala Lumpur November 20, 2007, urging the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to suspend Myanmar’s membership. The skit mocked Myanmar’s crackdown on monks and protesters. Southeast Asian nations were set to sign a charter on Tuesday that aims for free trade and human rights, but controversy over member Myanmar has marred the landmark deal. REUTERS/Zainal Abd Halim

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Pro-Myanmar activists protest in front of the Stock Exchange of Thailand in Bangkok, November 20, 2007. Protesters demanded Thai companies to halt new investment in the military-ruled neighbour. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang (THAILAND)

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Pro-Myanmar activists protest in front of the Stock Exchange of Thailand in Bangkok, November 20, 2007. Protesters demanded Thai companies to halt new investment in the military-ruled neighbour. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang (THAILAND)

Reuters 4
Pro-Myanmar activists protest in front of the Stock Exchange of Thailand in Bangkok, November 20, 2007. Protesters demanded Thai companies to halt new investment in the military-ruled neighbour. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang (THAILAND)

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – A Myanmar dissident slammed ASEAN’s failure to pressure the junta over its crackdown on pro-democracy protests, as the 10-member group unveiled a charter on Tuesday aimed at enshrining human rights and democracy.

“It’s a historical moment for them to sign the charter, which is supposed to be the charter for the protection and promotion of human rights, and now they let the (Myanmar) regime take over their agenda,” said Thailand-based Khin Ohmar.

“Now they’re taking sides with the regime it seems,” said Khin Ohmar, a former student leader of Myanmar’s 1988 uprising, in which up to 3,000 people died.

“I think it’s a bad step and backtracking,” she added.

The charter aims to integrate the economies of ASEAN’s 10 member-nations and to “strengthen democracy, enhance good governance and the rule of law, and to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms”.

“Burma has been a major shame for ASEAN,” Khin Omar said. “The social, economic and security aspects that it’s looking to resolve and promote in the region, will not happen if they don’t resolve Burma’s situation,” she said, speaking at the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents Club.

But Myanmar’s Foreign Minister U Nyan Win told his Japanese counterpart on Tuesday in Singapore that Western sanctions had hurt ordinary citizens the most and the way toward democratization was through economic development.

“The West has imposed economic sanctions, which directly harm the lives of ordinary citizens,” a Japanese official quoted U Nyan Win as telling Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura.

“I am not aware of a case in which sanctions resulted in the progress of democratization. Rather, economic development leads to democratization.”

Nyan Win also criticized the West for only listening to the opposition.

“Not everything that the opposition, which stands up to the government, says is correct. Only when one realizes that there are mistakes among the opposition, can we come closer to each other.”

Small demonstrations around the region were staged to protest what critics say is ASEAN’s soft approach to the junta’s iron-fisted rule.

In Singapore, four Singaporeans defied a ban on both Myanmar protests and a general law on group protests with a march towards the ASEAN summit venue, while in Bangkok about 20 activists protested in front of the stock exchange.

In Kuala Lumpur, some 200 people from Myanmar living in Malaysia staged a skit mocking Myanmar’s crackdown on the recent monk-led protests in the country.

ASEAN diplomats say the group is grappling with a dilemma. On the one hand, Myanmar’s membership is complicating its efforts to create a powerful and influential bloc in a globalize world. But shoving the junta beyond the pale would drive Myanmar further into China’s embrace and to ASEAN’s disadvantage.

ASEAN has instead opted for “engagement” with Myanmar, calling on the junta to work with the United Nations towards democracy and to release political detainees.

But Khin Omar said ASEAN was setting itself up for more pressure. “If they don’t get some kind of resolution toward Burma during this summit, I think the whole international community and governments will put more pressure on ASEAN.

“We don’t want another killing. This regime will not hesitate to do that. The Burmese people have paid their price, now it’s really up to the international community to really do their work,” she added.

(Writing by Bill Tarrant; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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