Seminar to discuss Burma ahead of ASEAN summit by Siân Thomas

Nov 6, 2007 (DVB)–The ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus is holding a seminar in Singapore on 9 November to discuss possible solutions to the crisis in Burma.

The seminar will be attended by politicians, diplomats, academics and activists, AIPMC executive director Roshan Jason told DVB.

These include members of parliament from countries in the region, representatives of foreign missions in Singapore from ASEAN countries, Europe, America and South Asia, Burmese MPs in exile, civil society activists and academics from a variety of areas.

The AIPMC has timed the seminar to bring additional pressure to bear on ASEAN leaders, who will hold their annual summit in Singapore from 18 November.

“[We chose the timing] knowing that decisions will be made on Burma, or at least we can urge decisions to be made on Burma when they are lacking,” said Roshan Jason.

“Knowing that representatives of the junta will be [at the ASEAN summit] and engaging with other leaders means we need a strong reminder to tell the leaders of ASEAN what the current situation is and reiterate calls for greater action by ASEAN,” he said.

The AIPMC executive director was hopeful that the group could have some influence on policymakers within ASEAN.

“I think we have some level of influence, being members of parliament, being lawmakers, to create an influence within our parliaments and thereafter get our message to the presidents and prime ministers on what the views of the people are,” he said.

He cited Burma’s exclusion from taking up the rotating chair of ASEAN and the Security Council’s discussion of Burma in January 2007 among the group’s achievements.

“All these are reflections of what happens when you have members of parliament and civil society working together and speaking out loudly enough on various issues,” he said.

The AIPMC’s next steps will depend on the outcome of the ASEAN summit, and in particular on the prospects for the ASEAN charter, Roshan Jason said.

“If it’s a strong enough document to be able to address the human rights situation in Burma, we will see some kind of hope, and we will want to work with ASEAN leaders to use that tool,” he said.

However, he also emphasised that ASEAN members should consider the possibility of other methods of engagement, including targeted sanctions against the Burmese regime.

“ASEAN should be talking about [sanctions] – not blanket sanctions, please be very clear about that, we’re talking about things like the banking assets of members of the junta within the region, like the kind of sanctions the US came up with ,” he said.

The AIPMC will also continue to advocate for the suspension of the military regime from ASEAN, in the hope that this threat will compel the junta to make changes, and will escalate this campaign if action is not taken to resolve the crisis.

The AIPMC was formed in November 2004 and is made up of members of parliament from Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Cambodia, Singapore, Thailand and Burma’s government in exile.

The organisation also has partner groups outside the ASEAN region, including in India, South Korea, Japan and Europe, and works closely with civil society movements.