March 3, 2006
SINGAPORE'S foreign minister said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, may have to distance itself from Myanmar if the military junta does not keep the bloc in the loop over moves toward democracy.
But George Yeo ruled out expelling the military-ruled nation from the 10-member bloc during a speech to Parliament Thursday, Mar 2.
"I think we will have to distance ourselves a bit if it is not possible for them to engage us in a way which we find necessary to defend them internationally," Yeo said.
The United States and European countries have complained that ASEAN has done little to force the pace of democracy in Myanmar, where pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is under house arrest and hundreds of dissidents are jailed.
Yeo said it was becoming increasingly difficult for ASEAN to defend Myanmar at the United Nations and other international forums because Myanmar's internal developments were sometimes a "mystery" to the group.
He noted the decision to shift the seat of government from Yangon to Pyinmana, which Yeo described as "sudden" and "bizarre."
Myanmar officials announced in November the government was moving to a new administrative capital about 400 kilometers (250 miles) north of Yangon, called Pyinmana.
Yeo said he expected some "hard decisions" to be made on ASEAN's approach toward Myanmar at a ministerial meeting in Bali, Indonesia on April 17-18.
"If Myanmar needs time out to attend to its own domestic pre-occupations, I think we should respect it, but, at the same time, the rest of ASEAN should not be held back," he said, without elaborating.