Foreign Ministers from Southeast Asian nations held discussions in Vietnam ahead of summit meetings this week. The focus of the meetings is regional cooperation but Burma’s controversial election plans, which critics have called a sham, are also expected to be discussed. d.
Foreign Ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations held talks Wednesday in Hanoi.
ASEAN’s ten member nations are Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Among other topics the ministers were expected to discuss Burma’s preparations for November 7 elections, the first in two decades. Critics say they are designed to keep the military in power.
It was not clear if the elections were discussed. But, before the meeting, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa told journalists he was pushing Burma for more credible elections. He said it was not too late for Burma’s military leaders to act.
“We are having good-We have been having conversations with our Myanmar [Burma] colleagues and we are not pessimistic, even at this late stage, that we can be part of- We can all work together to ensure that the elections in Myanmar can be part of a solution rather than part of more difficulties ahead,” Natalegawa said.
ASEAN has offered to send observers to the elections to give them more credibility but Burma banned foreign observers and foreign journalists.
Burma’s military is already guaranteed a quarter of all seats in the elections, has sidelined opposition parties, and refused the vote to millions of ethnic minorities.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won Burma’s last elections in 1990 but the military ignored the results and has kept the Nobel Prize winner under house arrest for most of the time since.
The Philippines Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo told journalists the elections did not look credible.
“The point is will there be credible elections if Aung San Suu Kyi and the others are not a part of it? It’s not the observers. It’s the participation of all,” said Romulo.
The ASEAN foreign ministers meeting came one day before leaders of ASEAN countries meet in Hanoi for talks focusing on building a regional community similar to the European Union.
The ASEAN heads of state will meet with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who has called for Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners in Burma to be released.
They will also meet with leaders of China, Japan, and South Korea and be joined over the weekend by leaders of Australia, India and New Zealand for the East Asia Summit.
Russia and the United States will attend as observers and be officially invited to join the group in 2011.