30 Mar 2005

Singapore's PM arrives in Myanmar

YANGON, March 30 (AFP) - Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong arrived in Myanmar on Wednesday, amid rumblings over whether the military-ruled nation should be allowed to become chairman of ASEAN as scheduled next year.
Lee, who became leader of his city-state in August, is on a three-day visit to Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia as part of a new leader's traditional visits to fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
He was set to meet Prime Minister Lieutenant General Soe Win and later Wednesday have talks with the junta leader Senior General Than Shwe, before having dinner with Soe Win.
The meeting with Soe Win was to take place at a military guest house run by the State Peace and Development Council, as the junta is known.
Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo, who is travelling with Lee, said this month ASEAN leaders were worried that its international reputation would be tarnished unless Myanmar implements democratic reforms.
Unless Yangon demonstrates some changes, ASEAN leaders would have to convey "hard messages," Yeo said.
Politicians in Malaysia and the Philippines are putting pressure on the reclusive country, which has been ruled by the military since 1962, to implement democratic reforms.
The politicians are trying to stop Myanmar assuming ASEAN's alphabetically rotating chairmanship in late 2006 after Malaysia.
Filipino lawmakers are trying to get the issue discussed at an April 3 meeting in the Philippines involving 1,500 legislators from Asia, Europe and America.
But Malaysia's government this week distanced itself from moves by lawmakers to introduce a motion in parliament urging that ASEAN deny Yangon the chairmanship until it releases detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.
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