BANGKOK: A group of 14 Nobel Peace Laureates has urged Asean to deny Myanmar chairmanship of the regional grouping.
In a joint statement issued at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand here on Thursday, the Nobel Laureates also called upon the international community to maintain pressure against the military junta ruling Myanmar.
Myanmar is scheduled to take over the rotating chairmanship of the 10-member Asean in 2006.
The statement was issued in conjunction with the 60th birthday tomorrow of pro-democracy activist and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest since May 2003, after she and her supporters were ambushed by a mob.
Many observers had alleged that the attack was a failed assassination attempt orchestrated by the military government, which has ruled the country despite a landslide election victory by the National League for Democracy in 1990.
We encourage those countries in South-East Asia ? to deny Burmas (Myanmar's) military regime leadership of Asean in 2006, said the Nobel Laureates, who included South Africas Bishop Desmond Tutu, Northern Irelands David Trimble and John Hume, and His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.
Burma (Myanmar) was admitted to Asean to lift its people up, not to drag the organisation down, they added.
The chairmanship has come under intense focus not only from Asean member countries, but also from its dialogue partners the United States and the European Union.
In May, US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick warned of severe limitations on US-Asean relations if the military-ruled state chaired the grouping.
The European Parliament has also called for a boycott of Asean if Myanmar assumes the chair.
Earlier this month, an informal group of Asean Members of Parliament urged their governments to take a firm stand against Myanmar and ensure its ruling junta kept to its promise of democratic reforms. The MPs also asked for Suu Kyi to be released from house arrest, warning that otherwise Myanmar would not be qualified to become Asean chairman.
Asean governments have, however, said that while individual countries may express their concerns on a bilateral basis, the regional grouping itself has a policy of non-interference.
In a video message to Suu Kyi that was aired at a special birthday celebration here, Bishop Tutu said, It is a travesty that you are not free ? that there are those who fear freedom of the people, who fear democracy and who fear you.
South Africa defeated and overcame apartheid, and one day Burma (Myanmar) will be free, he added. One day you will be free.
The Dalai Lama said that as a Tibetan, he felt a special sympathy for her and her people. The Tibetan and Burmese peoples have not only been neighbours throughout history, but also, as followers of the peaceful and compassionate teachings of the Buddha, we share many values and aspirations.''
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