JAKARTA, INDONESIA - The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is considering giving military-led Myanmar the chair of the grouping in 2014, despite grave concerns about human rights abuses and sham democracy.
Senior ASEAN officials gathering in Jakarta ahead of a leadership summit at the weekend said Myanmar - also known as Burma - had sought the chair of the 10-nation block in 2014, when communist Laos was due to take the job.
Human Rights Watch said giving the chair to Myanmar - a pariah state in the democratic world and a notorious human rights abuser - would be an embarrassment for a group that is already struggling with credibility issues.
"Rewarding Burma with ASEAN's chairmanship after it staged sham elections and still holds 2,000 political prisoners would be an embarrassment for the region," HRW Asia deputy director Elaine Pearson said in a statement.
"ASEAN leaders need to decide if they will let Burma demote ASEAN to the laughing stock of intergovernmental forums." Myanmar President Thein Sein has arrived in Indonesia, the current chair of ASEAN, to attend the two-day summit starting Saturday.
He met Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Thursday in what is his first trip abroad as president since he was sworn in on March 30.
Myanmar is a constant source of tension and embarrassment for ASEAN's more democratic states, trumping other problem-members such as communist Vietnam and Laos, which have significant human rights issues of their own.
ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in November shortly after an election, Myanmar's first in 20 years, that led to the handover of power from the military to a nominally civilian government.
Her release was welcomed worldwide, but Western governments who impose sanctions on Myanmar have urged the new government to do more to demonstrate its commitment to human rights.
Thein Sein, who was prime minister under the now-disbanded junta headed by former leader General Than Shwe, is one of a group of generals who shed their army uniforms to successfully stand in the November poll.
ASEAN has urged the United States to lift sanctions in the wake of the election, but Washington says "severe" abuses including killings, rapes and forced labour continue. --AFP