Asean expresses 'grave concern' over Suu Kyi trial

Burma’s South-east Asian neighbours expressed “grave concern” on Tuesday at the trial of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, but the chair of their regional group, Thailand, ruled out sanctions.

A day after European Union ministers said they hoped to cajole Asian governments into using their influence with Burma’s generals, China said it would not interfere in the former Burma’s affairs.

In its first formal response to the trial, the 10-strong Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) said the “honour and credibility” of its troublesome member Burma was at stake, and it urged “humane treatment and dignity” for Suu Kyi.

“The government of the Union of Burma, as a responsible member of Asean, has the responsibility to protect and promote human rights,” Thailand said on behalf of the group.

Suu Kyi, whose latest detention began in May 2003, is charged with violating her house arrest after an American intruder spent two days in her home this month.

The media and public are barred from the trial in Rangoon’s Insein prison, which on its second day heard testimony from five prosecution witnesses before adjourning until Wednesday, her lawyers said.

Critics say the charges, which could see her jailed for five years, are aimed at keeping the Nobel Peace laureate in detention until after elections in 2010. She has denied the charges.

Since joining Asean in 1997, the generals have been a thorn in the group’s relations with the West, which has repeatedly urged Asean to exert more pressure on the regime.

Critics fear a proposed human rights body under a new Asean charter signed in 2007 will have no teeth, given the charter’s commitment to the group’s mantra of non-interference.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva denied the group was too soft on Burma.

“Events over the last week have raised concern and we expressed our concern very clearly, but our policy is to engage and continue to engage constructively,” he told reporters.—Reuters

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