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ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan is due to visit Burma later this month, according to a statement released by the bloc that quotes him as urging the government to “seize the moment” and continue with a reform programme that has won it widespread praise.
Surin’s two-day visit on 20 February will be the first time he has travelled to Burma since ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations gave their backing last year to President Thein Sein’s bid for the 2014 ASEAN chairmanship.
An official from his office in Jakarta said that the exact schedule has not yet been released, although he is likely to push for meetings with both the government and opposition. The statement said he will travel to Naypyidaw to gauge how the country’s preparations for the chairmanship are coming along.
The head of the 10-member bloc was invited by Burmese Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin, whom according to the statement “wanted the Secretary-General to see Myanmar’s post-Nargis rehabilitation and post-reconstruction activities,” given ASEAN’s role in channelling aid to Burma after the devastating May 2008 cyclone.
Burma’s chairmanship of the bloc comes a year before the 2015 target for full economic integration, but analysts have expressed concern that allowing in a country whose own economic and governance record has been so tainted by decades of military rule will be an over-ambitious challenge.
Others say however that the prospect of chairing the bloc could spur the reform process, given the humiliation for Burma if by 2014 it still holds hundreds of political prisoners and abuses by the military against civilians continue.
Last year Indonesia, who held the chair for 2011 and who had oscillated somewhat over whether to back Burma’s bid, gave its full support for 2014, with foreign minister Marty Natalegawa visiting the country in December.
The current ASEAN chair is Cambodia.