Malaysian lawmakers urge ASEAN to support Myanmar protesters

Agence France-Presse, Sept 25, 2007

Lawmakers says violence very likely, hope protesters are not deterred

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- Malaysian lawmakers Monday called on Southeast Asian nations to support the aspirations of Myanmar's people for democracy, but warned violence was likely as protests mounted in Yangon.

"I'm pleasantly surprised at the tenacity, not only of the monks but of the civilian population in Burma," said Zaid Ibrahim, president of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Caucus, using the country's former name.

"For a long time we thought that the opposition group was very weak and not very organized, so obviously this has dispelled that notion. I think there is a groundswell that has emerged," he told Agence France-Presse.

Zaid, a member of Malaysia's ruling party and part of the caucus formed in 2004 to push for democratic reform in Myanmar, said the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) must heed this call for change.

"On the part of ASEAN governments I hope this time they will be more resilient, more serious in their efforts to see change in Burma," he said.

"They should use all their diplomacy and power and influence to pressure the regime."

Zaid said he was sure that although the regime has until now done nothing to halt a week of street protests led by Buddhist monks who are revered in Myanmar, it would eventually "hit back" and that lives would be lost.

"I would expect some severe reprisals and crackdowns and more brutality from the regime. I think this is inevitable and I think the people of Burma know of this and I hope they will not be deterred by it."

Malaysia's opposition leader Lim Kit Siang also called on Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to "articulate the aspirations of the ASEAN people for national reconciliation, democracy and human rights.

Lim also said the protests, which drew more than 100,000 people out onto the streets Monday, had triggered fears of a repeat of 1988 when the last democracy uprising was crushed by the military, leaving thousands dead.

"This is the time for ASEAN government leaders, together with the support of China and India, to engage and impress on the Myanmar military junta not to resort to violence but to turn it into an opportunity to resolve the present crisis," he said in a statement.