November 19, 2007 / 4:52 PM / 12 years ago

ASEAN calls for democracy in Myanmar

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Southeast Asian nations said on Monday that Myanmar should work with the United Nations on democracy and release political detainees, but they barred a U.N. envoy from briefing a summit in Singapore where they will sign a charter promoting human rights.

The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) is set to sign the charter on Tuesday that calls for promotion of democracy and human rights, though it has come under fire for member Myanmar after its junta’s crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

“Most leaders expressed the view that Myanmar could not go back or stay put. The process of national reconciliation has to move forward and the U.N. plays a vital role in this process,” said Singapore’s prime minister Lee Hsien Loong, after a late-night emergency meeting of ASEAN leaders.

However, he said that U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari would not brief the ASEAN summit on developments in Myanmar after an objection by Myanmar’s military prime minister Thein Sein.

Lee told reporters that Thein Sein made clear this was a domestic issue that Myanmar was “fully capable” of handling. ASEAN has a policy of non-interference in other members’ domestic affairs and has rejected calls for Myanmar’s suspension.

Lee said ASEAN members called on Myanmar to open up meaningful dialogue with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, release all political detainees, work for a peaceful transition to democracy and address economic difficulties in the country.

Suu Kyi was taken on Monday from the Yangon villa where she has been held for the past four years to a state guesthouse for a potential meeting with a senior member of the ruling military junta.

If so, it would be their third meeting since Suu Kyi’s appointment as a result of world outrage at the military crackdown in September, which the junta says killed 15 people. Western diplomats say the toll is much higher.

Diplomats have also dismissed the Myanmar junta’s “roadmap to democracy” as a blueprint for the army legitimizing its grip on power after 45 years of unbroken military rule.

The EU adopted sanctions on Myanmar on Monday while ASEAN drew fire from the U.S., which said a free trade deal between Washington and ASEAN was unlikely because of the political situation.

Reporting by Daryl Loo; writing by Neil Chatterjee; editing by Sami Aboudi

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