Southeast Asian leaders have urged Western countries to immediately lift sanctions imposed on Myanmar after a regional summit in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh.
Wednesday’s call, which followed the meeting of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders, came amid praise from regional leaders for Myanmar’s staging of parliamentary by-elections last weekend which resulted in pro-democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi’s election to parliament.
Hun Sen, the prime minister of Cambodia, which currently chairs ASEAN, said the appeal for sanctions to be lifted would first be relayed to the EU, which imposed the measures over alleged human rights violations by the former military regime.
Myanmar President Thein Sein, who heads the country’s military-backed civilian government, told other leaders that the elections had seen a huge turnout of voters and were held peacefully, drawing praise from counterparts.
“Normally the Myanmar issue is discussed as a problem but now it’s seen as very much different,” said Marty Natalegawa, the Indonesian foreign minister.
“Certainly there was no condemnation; there were lots of commendations.”
Representing almost 600 million people from disparate economic and political systems, the ASEAN bloc comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Myanmar has been censured by the ASEAN bloc in the past, with other member countries repeatedly reprimanding it for its failure to move forward on a promised road map to democracy, including the freeing of Suu Kyi from years of house arrest.
At the last ASEAN summit in November, the country was rewarded for its efforts by being promised the bloc’s chairmanship in 2014. Myanmar is also eager to attract greater foreign investment with the prospect of sanctions being lifted.
South China Sea disputes
While they mustered a united front on Myanmar, some Southeast Asian countries wrangled over a proposal to craft a nonaggression accord aimed at preventing armed clashes over territorial rifts in the South China Sea involving China and ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Taiwan also contests vast areas in the resource-rich region.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino insisted that ASEAN must craft such a “code of conduct” and then take it up with China as a group.
But Beijing opposes any arrangement that would force it to face a bloc of nations, preferring to negotiate with individual claimant countries.
Cambodia’s summit statement avoided any mention of another contentious issue.
It renewed ASEAN’s call for the peaceful resolution to the issue of North Korea’s nuclear programme but remained silent on Pyongyang’s planned rocket launch later this month.
North Korea says the launch is to send a satellite into space for scientific purposes, but the US and its allies say it amounts to a long-range missile test.