Ethnic leaders say too early to give Burma ASEAN chair

Ethnic groups’ leaders from Burma claim it is too early to grant Burma the Association of Southeast Asian Nations chair. The ASEAN Foreign Ministers agreed at the 19th ASEAN Summit in Bali, to appoint Burma in 2014 to the chairmanship of the regional bloc.

Indonesian Foreign Minister, Marty M. Natalegawa, speaking to the media said that there have been specific changes in Burma this year and these reforms are a factor for Burma to be given the chair ASEAN.

Despite some reform, ethnic leaders are not convinced Burma has done enough to be given the ASEAN chair.

Nai Hongsa Bonkhing, a spokesperson for the New Mon State Party Foreign Affairs said.

“We should wait and see how they [government] perform on some issues, such as how many more political prisoners will be released. In the meantime, Burma has been talking ceasefires with some ethnic groups, but we should wait and see if the government is serious. ASEAN has recognized the recent changes in Burma, but we see should take time to see if they are real reforms.”

Nai Hongsa Bonkhing said that in spite of ASEAN’s recognition of the governments fledgling changes, the reality is that there are only basic and mainly to do with the media and Daw Aung San Su Kyi.

“There are no signs the government will agree to a countrywide ceasefire that ethnic groups proposed to the government.”

Khu Oo Rei secretary for Karenni National Progressive Party-KNPP agrees and said.

“People are saying that Burma has changed, but the real situation is that it is too soon to decide how far the changes will reach. Civilian from the ethnic regions still live in fear. We do not support Burma to be the chair of ASEAN.”

Major Sai La, spokesperson for Shan State Army-North said.

“ASEAN only sees the release of Daw Aung San Su Kyi and a few political prisoners, but misses the abuses happening in ethnic regions. Does that mean ASEAN don’t see the abuse of ethnic people as important?”
Major Sai La said even if Burma is the ASEAN chair, ethnic people will keep struggling until they get their rights.

Karen National Union, vice chairman, Saw David Tharc Kabaw said.

“The Burma Army is still under the control of President U Thein Sein and his government. There is an only thing for sure Burma is still far from peaceful”

Notably, the US Government did not support the decision to grant Burma the ASEAN chair stating that there have not been enough changes in the country except for the release of small number of political prisoners and human rights abuses are still happening in ethnic areas.

Burma media and political opposition groups and its media are still liable to severe jail sentences under the country’s draconian laws. Currently, there are still as many as 2000 political prisoners in jail.

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