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Nava Thakuria
New Delhi: The pro-democracy Burmese and their sympathizers have expressed their resentments on Burma’s elevation as the ‘would be chair’ of the Association of South East Asian Nations in 2014. Terming the recent initiative of ASEAN to grant Burma the 2014 Chair as ‘premature as the authorities have failed to fulfill key promises of reform’, a number of organizations argued that the ‘decision might even embolden them (Burmese government) to continue committing human rights abuses with total impunity’.

“We call for ASEAN to keep its options open on reversing its decision on Burma’s chairing the regional bloc if the military-led government back-slides on promises concerning human rights and democracy,” stated in a statement issued by these organizations. They also asserted that ASEAN’s decision to deliberately ignore the new war in Kachin state and escalation of military attacks in eastern Burma this year, is a betrayal of its international and regional obligations to the wellbeing of ASEAN citizens.

Otherwise, they warned, the ASEAN leaders must be prepared to face the national and regional consequences of its premature decision, including increased displacement, undocumented migration and drug production that results from its ill-timed decision to grant Burma the 2014 chair.

Signed by Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, Asian Centre for Human Rights, International Federation for Human Rights , South Asia Forum for Human Rights, All Student and Youth Congress of Burma, All Women's Action Society, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, Asian Indigenous Women's Network, Burma Centre Delhi, Forum for Democracy in Burma, Human Right Education Institute of Burma, Student and Youth Congress of Burma, Women’s League of Burma etc also added, “ We are extremely disappointed that ASEAN did not use the unique opportunity it had to influence the Thein Sein’s government to take meaningful steps towards democratic transition, peace, and national reconciliation.”

Human rights violations and atrocities in northeastern Burma have significantly increased since President Thein Sein came to power. Between August 2010 and July 2011, the Burmese regime forced at least 112,000 people, the highest estimate in a decade, to flee their homes in eastern Burma. In addition, over 20,000 fled their homes as a result of the Burma Army offensives in Kachin State and northern Shan State. Civilians continued to flee Burma, with the number of refugees living in refugee camps in Thailand increasing from 145,713 to 148,908 during the same period, added the statement.

Debbie Stothard, coordinator of Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma claims that narcotics production and trafficking continues to run rampant throughout Burma with active support of the regime.

“Burma is the second largest producer of opium in the world. In some areas of Shan State under the control of the military-led government, the opium cultivation has increased by 78.58% within the last two years creating a greater threat to the security of neighbouring States, added Ms Debbie.

The Thein Sein’s government has recently embarked on a series of largely cosmetic changes with an aim to gain international legitimacy, but the ground reality remains almost the same. The government has recently few prisoners, but there over 1,600 political prisoners are still behind bars. The Burmese Information Minister Kyaw Hsan even denied of any political prisoners in Burma recently. Similarly, the Parliament refused to repeal oppressive laws that facilitated the imprisonment of several thousand political prisoners and adopted new restrictive laws that disenfranchise many activists convicted in the past. 
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