Wednesday, August 19, 2009

ASEAN debates calling on Myanmar to free Suu Kyi

August 19, 2009

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Senior Southeast Asian officials are meeting in Jakarta to debate whether to call on Myanmar to release opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Indonesia said on Wednesday.

Suu Kyi, who has spent 14 of the last 20 years in detention, was sentenced last week to a further 18 months of house arrest for violating an internal security law after an American man swam to her lakeside home uninvited.

Senior officials from the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) were meeting for dinner on Wednesday and then will hold more talks on Thursday, possibly going into Friday, to discuss sending a letter to Myanmar's ruling junta.

"They will seek to ask Myanmar to give amnesty but that's in principle only. I don't know exactly how it will be reflected in the letter," foreign ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said by telephone, adding he was unsure whether the letter would also call for amnesty for other political prisoners.

"I suspect it will be Suu Kyi. I don't know if it will touch on all political prisoners."

Suu Kyi's sentence means she will be unable to take part in an election next year that have already been dismissed by critics as a sham aimed at legitimizing the army's grip on power.

Faizasyah would not be drawn on speculation that the meeting would be evenly split on the issue, with Myanmar and countries such as Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos expected to oppose the move.

"The 50-50 calculation of positions cannot yet be verified as the Senior Officials Meeting, one of the possible avenues to discuss it, has yet to meet," he said.

The regional grouping, unlike many Western nations, has so far given only a timid rebuke of Myanmar by expressing "deep disappointment" over the issue, although members such as Indonesia appear keen to send a sterner message.

ASEAN has a policy of non-interference in its members' domestic affairs and is seen by some as a toothless talking shop.

(Reporting by Sunanda Creagh; Editing by Ed Davies and Alex Richardson)

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