China urges faster Myanmar reforms

Unusual advice reported by country's state media after high-level official meeting.

    Buddhist monks bore the brunt of the government's
    violent crackdown on democracy activists [AFP]

    Beijing also expressed support for UN-brokered attempts to reconcile the government and the country's suppressed democracy movement led by Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained opposition leader.
    China, Myanmar's main political ally, has traditionally held the position of strict non-interference in the country's internal affairs.

    But in recent weeks, the country has been credited with working behind the scenes to pressure Myanmar to embrace democratic reforms.

    China had supported the mission of Ibrahim Gambari, the UN envoy, by supporting a UN Security Council declaration and helping to persuade Myanmar to allow him to visit twice since the military's crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in September.

    Asean stand

    In another development, leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) have said that the situation in Myanmar is "not sustainable" but that Asean leaders have a limited ability to push for change.

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    According to Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore's prime minister, the bloc had "no choice" but to condemn the suppression of pro-democracy protests in Myanmar.

    "The present situation in Myanmar is not sustainable. Asean had no choice but to speak up and take a clear stand, because the developments in Myanmar have an impact on the region as a whole," he told the Straits Times daily.
    "Still, we are realistic. Our influence on Myanmar is limited and Myanmar clearly prefers to work with the UN rather than Asean. We respect their wishes."

    Asean leaders are under increasing pressure to hold the Myanmar government accountable over the violence in September, which the generals have now said left at least 15 people dead, according to Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, a UN human rights investigator.

    Plea for sanctions
    Rights groups have asked for sanctions against the government, while the US senate has called on Asean to suspend Myanmar.

    However, Lee said Myanmar's place in the grouping was not up for discussion.

    He said: "Myanmar is a member of the Asean family. No one wishes a family member ill, even if we do not always agree with it."

    Senior General Than Shwe, Myanmar's leader, has vowed that the only path to political reform is via the goverment's own "road map to democracy".

    He said: "We have declared a seven-step roadmap towards a democratic state.

    "The seven-step roadmap is the only means to smooth transition towards a new state."

    Military's plan
    Than Shwe's words suggest that any discussions about political reform with Suu Kyi will have to take place within the framework of the military's existing plan, which is now at stage three - writing a new constitution.

    Stage one - drawing up the outline of the charter - ended in September after a national convention that first met 14 years ago, but hit trouble when Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) refused to attend while she was under house arrest.

    A drafting commission of 54 people handpicked by the military has now been appointed and will hold their first meeting on December 1.
    Under the outlined charter, the head of the army will be the most powerful person in the country, with the ability to appoint key cabinet positions and suspend the constitution in the event of an emergency that he defines.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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