ASEAN turns the screw on Burma

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Burmese Foreign Minister, Nyan Win
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There was a huge break with tradition this week when ASEAN foreign ministers agreed to set up a human rights body. The issue has been creating friction within the 10-member group, threatening to divert attention from their usual preoccupation with economic integration. According to Reuters, an insider revealed that Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and Brunei — the six older members of ASEAN — persuaded Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam to accept the deal. Needless to say, Burma had opposed the idea, while the other three nations had asked for more time. The time-honoured consensus approach which has characterised ASEAN’s 40-year history ensured these differences were swept under the carpet, to arrive at an ‘in principle’ agreement. This might not seem a big deal, but this does constitute a major step forward and a sign that the more advanced nations within ASEAN are losing their patience with the military junta in Burma. The softly-softly strategy has clearly failed and now it is time to step up a gear because the increasingly bizarre behaviour of the Burmese government is becoming an embarrassment.