SENGGIGI, Indonesia (Reuters) – The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) wants the U.S. and Europe to lift sanctions against member Myanmar after its recent elections and release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, it said on Sunday.
The moves by Myanmar, a politically isolated state that has often been an international embarrassment to the region, have given it a veneer of democracy but have not loosened its military rulers’ firm grip on power.
ASEAN will keep pushing Myanmar to build on the release of Suu Kyi by including her in the political system, but countries which uphold sanctions against the country should recognize progress made so far, said Marty Natalegawa, foreign minister of Indonesia and ASEAN chair this year.
ASEAN advocates “the immediate or early removal or easing of sanctions that have been applied against Myanmar by some countries,” Natalegawa told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers on Lombok island in Indonesia.
The release of Suu Kyi should act as springboard for greater progress toward democracy, Natalegawa told Reuters.
“She is some part of the solution not the problem,” Natalegawa told Reuters during a meeting of Southeast Asian foreign ministers on Lombok island in Indonesia. “Developments must not be allowed to dissipate.”
The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), whose 10 members include Myanmar, has a policy of non-interference in member’s domestic affairs and has tried engaging with Myanmar rather than imposing sanctions as the West has done.
Myanmar’s November election, resulting in a landslide win for an army-backed party after allegations of fraud, left Suu Kyi with no political role, though analysts say she may now be more of an asset for the generals in efforts to ease international sanctions.
Indonesia, chair of ASEAN in 2011, wants progress this year, Natalegawa said, after the topic was among the first to be discussed at the three-day meet.
Regional ASEAN summits, aimed at building an economic community by 2015 that would encompass some 500 million people and some of the world’s fastest growing economies, have often been overshadowed by controversy over the Myanmar junta.
“We have been promised that Myanmar will cease to be a problem for ASEAN in its engagement with the international community,” said ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan, after talks between ministers. He said ASEAN was seeking greater access to Myanmar’s leaders.
Pitsuwan said Myanmar would like to take the chairmanship of ASEAN in 2014, though for that to happen there would need to be international confidence in its stability.
Greater integration with Myanmar would also lead to investment, he said, with the group eyeing areas such as a road link to India, food production, energy generation, and tourism.
(Reporting by Neil Chatterjee; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)
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