- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2007

NEW YORK — The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, under increasing pressure from the West, ended its habitual silence on the situation in Burma yesterday, expressing “revulsion” at the ruling military junta’s killing of protesters and demanding an end to the violence.

The United States, meanwhile, imposed financial sanctions on 14 senior officials from the Burmese regime, freezing any assets they might have in U.S. banks and barring Americans from business dealings with them.

As continuing clashes between the junta and anti-government demonstrators in Burma claimed at least nine lives, foreign ministers from nine ASEAN countries rebuked the group”s 10th member, which has been using the name Myanmar since 1989.

The ministers, meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly”s opening session here, said in a statement they were “appalled” by the shootings in the capital, Rangoon, and “demanded that the government immediately desist from the use of violence against demonstrators.”

At the White House, President Bush met with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi to ask him to use his country”s influence in bringing about a peaceful transition to democracy in Burma.

Beijing has refused to condemn the junta, calling only for “restraint” on both sides. China, which benefits from Burma’s natural gas and minerals, is also concerned about protests for democracy on its own soil.

“Every civilized nation has a responsibility to stand up for people suffering under a brutal military regime like the one that has ruled Burma for too long,” Mr. Bush, whose administration has called for talks between the government and the demonstrators, said in a statement.

In Rangoon, the junta arrested hundreds and gave protesters 10 minutes to clear the streets or be shot. The nine fatalities, including a Japanese journalist, were reported by the state press, but foreign diplomats feared the actual number may be higher.

Buddhist monks, who started the demonstrations last week, were reported conspicuously absent from the streets yesterday, reports from the country said. Diplomats and analysts suggested they had been scared off by police raids of their monasteries.

The ASEAN ministers “expressed their revulsion to Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win over reports that the demonstrations in Myanmar are being suppressed by violent force and that there has been a number of fatalities.” Mr. Nyan Win decided to skip the meeting at the last moment, sending instead a top aide, Thaung Tun, who sat with a blank look and refused to comment after the statement was issued.

The unusually strong ASEAN statement broke with the group’s decades-long principle of “noninterference in the internal affairs of one another.” Its members have for years resisted U.S. calls to put pressure on the junta, which has ruled in various forms since 1962.

But yesterday’s statement went even further, saying the situation in Burma has “a serious impact on the reputation and credibility of ASEAN.” The document also demanded the release of political prisoners, including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Burma joined ASEAN 10 years ago. The organization’s other members are Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who met with her ASEAN colleagues later in the day, urged them to be prepared to take action beyond the statement’s words if the junta fails to heed their call. The statement did not mention any punitive measures or other consequences.

“I can just assure you the United States is determined to keep an international focus on the travesty that is taking place in Rangoon,” Miss Rice said.

U.S. officials said that during the meeting Miss Rice “was letting the Myanmar reps have it.”

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband also urged China, India and ASEAN to apply pressure on the junta and even draw up “a sanctions menu,” in Mr. Miliband’s words.

Miss Rice has skipped ASEAN’s annual security forum twice in the three years she has been secretary. Although she has blamed scheduling conflicts, her absence suggested that she did not take the organization seriously enough.

On Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon dispatched a special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, to Burma. A spokeswoman for Mr. Ban, Marie Okabe, said yesterday he had been told by Mr. Nyan Win that Mr. Gambari “will be welcomed by the Myanmar government.”

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