Wednesday, 20 August 2008

ASEAN considers observer status for Burma's elected government

Radio Australia

ASEAN members meeting in Singapore this week will consider the admission of members of Burma's civilian government in exile as observers of the group.

A delegation of Burmese politicians living in exile has travelled to Singapore to meet with members on the sidelines.

Radio Australia's Katie Hamann reports one of their strongest allies is Indonesia and last week they were invited to the capital Jakarta where they attended a session of parliament.

Last Friday Teddy Buri and four other exiled MP's stepped into the Indonesian House of Representatives for a plenary session marking the 63rd anniversary of the archipelago's independence.

Teddy Buri's 18 years as an elected member of Burma's civilian government has led him everywhere but the seat of power in his homeland.

Elected in 1990 but unable to form government he was driven from Burma by the military junta in 1994.

"I've been out of Burma for nearly 15 years," Mr Buri said.

"It's impossible for me to return unless, you know, I surrender but that's out of the question so in other words I'm unable to return to Burma at all."

Dividing his time between Thailand and Australia he now serves as President of the Burmese Members of Parliament Union or MPU.

Last Friday's invitation was the first time exiled Burmese MP's had attended the government session of an ASEAN member state, on this occasion as the official guests of the house speaker Agung Laksono.

"We got invited officially, which reflects, we believe, Indonesia's support for the Burmese democracy movement and that it also wants to see change in Burma.

"We see Indonesia as the third largest democracy in the world and the largest democracy in the region, so we really see it as very significant," Mr Buri said.

Symbolic, not official

Dr Jason Abbott, a Burma specialist at Briton's University of Surrey, says the delegations visit to Jakarta was mainly a symbolic gesture.

"We shouldn't forget that Indonesia is the largest democracy in ASEAN so there is some symbolic import from this visit.

"I think it's more signficant to the MPU and perhaps to the junta then it is to the Indonesian government as a whole although it is symbolic from the point of view of Indonesian parliamentarians," Mr Abbott said.

"But the fact that it's not an official invitation from the Government itself or from the President means that we should caution against reading too much into this."

Perhaps deliberately, Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono didn't raise the issue of Burma in his address to the house.

As Indonesia's representative at this weeks ASEAN meeting in Singapore, Mr Laksono, however, is one of several South East Asian leaders lobbying for the MPU to be admitted to ASEAN as observers, a proposal first tabled by Indonesia in 2006.

Teddy Buri says he expects it will be rejected because the ASEAN executive committees requires consensus based decisions.

"We are pretty sure that Burma's going to oppose our participation, so it's a foregone conclusion that we are not going to be accorded observer status.

"But still the fact that we have some members that are speaking on our behalf sends a very strong message to the other members as well as the SPDC that there is a need for change in Burma," he said.

You can find the full story at the Connect Asia website:

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