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Southeast Asia presses Myanmar on reforms


KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 9 (AFP): Southeast Asian foreign ministers turned up the pressure on Myanmar Friday, expressing frustration over the military junta's unmet promises on rights and democracy that have embarrassed regional leaders.
At a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), host Malaysia said Myanmar had been given a clear message that it had to start backing up its words with actions.
"They talk about democracy. We want to see some movement that will show they are really leading towards that," said Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar.
"I don't think any single country in ASEAN does not feel impatient or does not feel uncomfortable, because it does create problems and difficulties for us," he said. "This has created some embarrassment."
Myanmar opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest, and her National League of Democracy (NLD) party has boycotted talks on what the regime calls a "road map" to democracy.
The international community, including the United Nations, European Union and United States, has dismissed the on-again off-again talks, which the junta insists are intended to set up a constitution, as a sham.
Syed Hamid said the criticism had hurt the credibility of the 10-nation ASEAN bloc, which decided to bypass the country in rotating alphabetical order and hold its next summit in the Philippines instead.
He said ASEAN could try to send a committee to visit the poor and secretive country, which has blocked UN envoys from visiting in recent years, to see what progress it was making in improving its human-rights situation.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Hasan Wirayuda said ASEAN's foreign ministers, meeting here ahead of a two-day regional summit starting Monday, had been critical during Friday's discussions.
"We have discussed Myanmar in a very frank manner," he said.
Aung San Suu Kyi's party won elections in 1990 but was never allowed to take power. The country, formerly known as Burma, has been ruled by the military since 1962.
At last month's summit of Pacific Rim leaders, US President George W. Bush pressured ASEAN to take a tougher stance on Myanmar and described the country as an outpost of "isolation, backwardness and brutality."
Top opposition leaders are among the more than 1,000 political prisoners that the United Nations says are being detained by the regime, which an Asian rights group has accused of "brutal and systematic" torture.