Monday, November 19, 2007

US says ASEAN credibility at stake on Burma's Regime

SINGAPORE (AFP) - The credibility of Southeast Asian nations is at stake over their handling of military-run Myanmar, United States Trade Representative Susan Schwab said Monday.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) annual summit, she said it was a "sad commentary" that the issue of Myanmar was stealing the spotlight.

"The reputation and the credibility of ASEAN as an organisation has been called into question because of the situation in Burma," Schwab told reporters, referring to Myanmar by its former name, which is preferred by US officials.

"There's no way that I could come here without expressing our concern," she said, adding she believed ASEAN leaders recognised that "it just can't be business as usual" in their dealings with the junta.

"They take it seriously. The question is what the results will be," Schwab said.

ASEAN is under intense international pressure to rein in the junta after a bloody September suppression of anti-government protests led by Buddhist monks. At least 15 people died in the crackdown, which sparked global outrage.

The US Senate on Friday unanimously adopted a resolution urging the bloc to suspend its errant member, but that suggestion was quickly rejected by ASEAN secretary general Ong Keng Yong, who said confrontation is not the answer.

Stepped-up US sanctions against the ruling generals announced last month targeted firms with offices in both Myanmar and summit host Singapore.

The bloc says its controversial policy of engaging the junta is the only way forward, and has rejected mounting calls to impose sanctions on Myanmar.

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