Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Indonesia FM Postpones Trip to to Burma

Irrawaddy News

Indonesia Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa speaking at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Sept 22, 2011. (Photo: Reuters)

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has again postponed a fact-finding mission to Burma but will probably travel to the country next week, according to Indonesian embassy officials in Rangoon.

The visit, which was scheduled to begin today and last until Friday, has been put off because of a cabinet reshuffle in Jakarta, said Djumara Supriyadi, the secretary of the Indonesian embassy in Rangoon, speaking the The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.

“Last week, we had a cabinet reshuffle,” said Supriyadi. “Because of this, we had to make a judgment call and decided that the trip will not happen from the 26th to 28th as planned.”

The visit will likely be rescheduled for next Monday, said Supriyadi, emphasizing that the change in plans had nothing to do with Naypyidaw.

The purpose of the trip is to assess recent political reforms in Burma, which is seeking the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in 2014. As the current Asean chair, Indonesia has been charged with determining whether Burma's new military-backed government is ready for a regional leadership role.

During his visit, which has been on hold since it was first scheduled to take place in May, the Indonesian foreign minister is expected to meet with government officials and opposition leaders, as well as civil society groups.

His findings are expected to have a significant impact on whether Asean leaders decide to grant Burma's request for the chairmanship—a decision that could come as early as next month, when the grouping will hold a summit in Bali.

Although Indonesian officials have played down this latest delay, Naypyidaw is likely anxious to see the visit go ahead at the earliest possible opportunity, according to Kavi Chongkittavorn, a specialist on Asean affairs and a regular columnist for the Bangkok-based daily The Nation.

The decision to delay the trip comes a day after the US special envoy to Burma, Derek Mitchell, completed his second visit to the country in less than two months.

According to journalists in Jakarta, Mitchell flew to the Indonesian capital from Bangkok soon after leaving Burma yesterday, but it was not clear who he met with while there. Mitchell also travelled to Jakarta following his first trip to Burma in September and held talks with Indonesia Foreign Ministry officials at the time, according to Agung Putri, the executive director of the Asean Inter-parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC), a regional rights group.

Few details of Mitchell's latest trip to Burma have been disclosed to the media. The visit followed a series of moves by the Burmese government that were apparently aimed at improving relations with its Western critics, including the suspension of a Chinese-financed hydropower dam project that was widely opposed by the Burmese public and the release of some 220 political prisoners.

However, Mitchell said ahead of his latest visit that ties between the two countries could not be transformed as long as there are credible reports of continuing human rights abuses in Burma. He also noted that violence against minority women and children in ethnic areas remains a serious problem in the country.

Burma—under the previous military regime—skipped its turn in 2006 to act as chair of Asean in the face strong international pressure led by the US and other Western countries, which criticized the junta's record of human rights abuses and lack of progress toward restoring democracy. It again launched an official bid for the bloc's chairmanship in Jakarta at the 18th Asean Summit in May.

The AIPMC recently called on Indonesia to delay making a decision on whether to support Burma's bid to chair the regional bloc in 2014 until Naypyidaw makes genuine progress toward democratic reform.

Recently, Human Rights Watch also accused the Burmese army of committing serious human rights abuses against ethnic Kachin civilians since renewed fighting broke out in the northern state in June. It estimated that some 30,000 civilians in Kachin State have been displaced by the conflict.
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