A leading Asian body has been urged to consider suspending member Myanmar if it fails to release Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
Malaysian lawmaker Zaid Ibrahim asked the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (Asean) members in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday to consider sidelining Myanmar or blocking it from taking over as Asean's chair in 2006 if pledged moves towards democracy are not fulfilled.
"It should be seriously considered," Zaid said. "I think we should do something along those lines if Suu Kyi remains detained and there are no democratic reforms."
Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been ruled by the military since 1962. The current government called elections in 1990, but refused to hand over power when Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won a landslide victory. Suu Kyi has been under arrest since May 2003.
Asean members maintain a long-standing policy of non-interference in each other's internal affairs.
Zaid said a general consensus existed among lawmakers from Asean countries that it "should modify its non-interference policies, and adopt a more robust approach in pushing Myanmar towards democratic reforms".
Aung San Suu Kyi has been under
house arrest since May 2003
He was speaking as chairman of a two-day conference in the Malaysian capital bringing together about 40 Southeast Asian parliamentarians, officials, and human-rights advocates to discuss the issue.
The Kuala Lumpur conference parallels an Asean summit currently under way in Laos, where Myanmar's faltering steps towards democracy have come under scrutiny.
"Asean's constructive engagement policies have failed," Asda Jayanama, Thailand's former representative to the United Nations, said.
"The Asean values of non-interference of domestic affairs and quiet diplomacy should be re-examined and reinterpreted for modern times."
Myanmar's Foreign Minister Nyan Win said on Friday the government was committed to restoring democracy, despite its ousting last month of a relatively moderate prime minister, General Khin Nyunt.
The government has also claimed to have released more than 9000 prisoners - convicted criminals and political detainees - but refuses to say if Suu Kyi will be freed from house arrest.
"Asean's constructive engagement policies have failed"
Thailand's former UN representative
Aung Naing Oo of Burma Fund - a lobby group for democracy in Myanmar - said the country's membership in Asean had "emboldened it to commit more human rights abuses".
He added that removing Myanmar as Asean's chair should be considered until the government carried out promised reforms.
The Malaysia conference can make only non-binding recommendations to Asean members.
Asean's 10 members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.