The Irrawaddy News Magazine [Covering Burma and Southeast Asia]

Burmese FM to Face Suu Kyi and North Korea Questions at ARF
By WAI MOE Saturday, July 18, 2009

PHUKET — Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win arrives in Thailand on Saturday to face questions from the international community over the charges against pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma’s relations with North Korea.

Nyan Win is scheduled to arrive in the Thai resort town of Phuket on Saturday afternoon to attend the Asean Ministerial Meeting (AMM) and Asean Regional Forum (ARF), according to official sources.

These high-profile meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) come as Suu Kyi is set to face final arguments in her trial for allegedly violating the terms of her house arrest. In a rare move, Asean member countries have criticized the Burmese junta for the trial against Suu Kyi, who is accused of allowing an American intruder to stay overnight in her home.

On Friday, when the AMM began, Asif Ahmad, Southeast Asia head for the British Foreign Office, said that the European Union would impose tougher sanctions on the Burmese military regime if Suu Kyi is sentenced.

Ahead of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s arrival in Phuket, Scot Marciel, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for East Asia and the Pacific, told reporters on Wednesday that Clinton would raise Burma issues at the ARF, which will be attended by senior representatives of 27 Asia-Pacific countries.

Besides Suu Kyi’s trial, another concern relating to Burma is its increasing military ties with North Korea. In a recent briefing to Congress, Kurt Campbell, a senior official of the US State Department, said that the US is closely watching the activities of the two pariah states.

Security analysts suspect that North Korea has been helping the Burmese junta since the 1990s to develop its tunnel and underground warfare capabilities, as well as providing mid-range missile and nuclear technology. Shortly after the UN Security Council imposed fresh sanctions against Pyongyang in June, the US Navy began tracking the Kang Nam 1, a North Korean cargo ship believed to be heading toward Burma.

Fears that Burma may be developing a nuclear program are a growing concern for countries in the region, particularly neighboring Thailand, prompting the Thai military to increase its scrutiny of Naypyidaw’s relations with Pyongyang.

Beijing is also a factor in North Korea-Burma relationship. The junta’s No 3, General Shwe Mann, has visited North Korea via China at least three times in the past two years. Some analysts suspect that Beijing is playing the role of mediator in relations between the two countries.

“China wants Burma and North Korea as allies to balance power in geopolitics,” said Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Burmese analyst based on the Sino-Burmese border. “But now China’s tactics could backfire if it doesn’t handle the military and nuclear ambitions of the two countries well.”

Burma’s human rights record also presents major challenges for its neighbors.

On July 20, Asean foreign ministers are scheduled to adopt the Terms of Reference of the Asean Human Rights Body (AHRB), which will be formally announced at the 15th Asean Summit in October, according an official press release.

However, human rights activists say that the AHRB will have little credibility unless Asean can persuade the Burmese regime to changes its behavior.

“At this critical time, Asean cannot afford to be weak on human rights. Asean leaders must take firmer measures and not let Burma slide by on a false promise,” said Khin Ohmar, coordinator of the Burma Partnership, who was prevented from attending a meeting between Asean civil society organizations and Asean leaders because of the junta’s demands.

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