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Keep Up the Pressure on Burma's Dictators

Author: David L. Phillips, Executive Director, The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity
June 26, 2003
Wall Street Journal

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Burma's junta has shown it does not respond to Western pressure alone. The U.S. succeeded in persuading Asian foreign ministers to place Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's detention on the agenda of the latest regional summit. Now Razali Ismail must compel the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to press the country's military rulers to release Ms. Suu Kyi and loosen their grip on the country's pro-democracy movement ("Razali Ismail, Renaissance Man1" by Michael Judge, editorial page, June 16).

The current situation regarding Ms. Suu Kyi is largely a result of Mr. Razali's success. He convinced the junta to release the Nobel award winner from house arrest and to liberalize activities of her political party. Crisis arose when Burma's rulers realized they had misjudged Ms. Suu Kyi's popularity and re-arrested her.

To break the impasse, Mr. Razali must syncopate American pressure with Asean's reluctance to interfere in the internal affairs of a member state. As a former president of the U.N. General Assembly he brings useful diplomatic experience to his role as special representative of the secretary-general. Razali Ismail's Malaysian background and commercial context provide him with unique capability to cajole Burma's rulers.


David L. Phillips is a senior fellow and deputy director of the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.