ASEAN Confident of Myanmar Chairmanship despite Concerns on Human Rights

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Oct 10 (Bernama) — Despite concerns over Myanmar’s sketchy human rights record, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) is confident that it is capable of being an effective chairman in 2014, China’s Xinhua news agency quoted officials as saying here on Thursday.

The members had not pressed Myanmar on sectarian clashes between Buddhists and Muslims that are estimated to have killed hundreds and displaced more than 150,000 people since violence erupted last year, said Asean Secretary-General Le Luong Minh on the sidelines of the summit.

However, Minh was adamant that Myanmar’s reformist government headed by President U Thein Sein would give able leadership to the regional bloc when it takes over the Asean chairmanship on Thursday.

Myanmar will officially begin duties on Jan 1, 2014.

“Myanmar has been receiving very strong support from the member states and partners and we are confident they will be able to undertake their chairmanship effectively,” Le said.

Officials of member states have also been encouraging engagement rather than sidelining the country, which has partially opened up its economy and reformed its politics.

“We acknowledge that issues remain … and we believe that they are working on them to the best of their ability,” Philippine presidential spokesman Ricky Carandang told reporters.

“But we also need to recognize the dramatic changes that have taken place in that country and the reforms that have been undertaken by the president of Myanmar. The best thing that the international community can do at this point is to encourage them to continue to move in this direction, so we support Myanmar is taking over as chair,” he added.

Earlier US Secretary of State John Kerry insisted that the reforms in Myanmar are “incomplete” while addressing a youth forum on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit on Wednesday.

“I think what is happening in Myanmar is very exciting, but it is incomplete,” Kerry said during a meeting with students in Brunei.

Kerry met the Myanmar president for a bilateral discussion on Thursday morning where they pledged to increase bilateral cooperation.

Myanmar’s president pardoned 56 political prisoners on Tuesday, an amnesty apparently timed to highlight the government’s reforms ahead of the Asean Summit.