Singapore Urges Myanmar to Cooperate with Outside World

SINGAPORE ~ Singapore has urged Myanmar’s ruling generals to take “bolder steps” to promote national reconciliation and work with the international community amid fresh reports of arrests in Yangon.

Speaking at a dinner in honor of visiting Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein on Tuesday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called the diplomatically isolated nation “an old friend” of Singapore that should “develop and prosper.”

“The global environment is changing, with a new administration in the US reviewing the global situation, and formulating its priorities and strategies in foreign policy for the next four years,” he said.

Europe is also reassessing its foreign policy and other countries grappling with the global economic slump are looking at more effective ways to deal with other regions of the world, he said.

“We hope Myanmar will seize this moment to take bolder steps towards national reconciliation and in engaging the international community,” Lee said.

The two countries are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which also includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

Lee said there was potential to develop economic cooperation, particularly in tourism, and urged both nations to enhance cultural ties.

Despite western sanctions, Singaporean firms operate in Myanmar, and junta officials, including reclusive leader General Than Shwe, are believed to have sought medical treatment in the island republic.

In a symbolic ceremony, on Wednesday Singapore named an orchid after Thein Sein, angering a small group of Singaporean human rights activists.

Visiting foreign dignitaries are routinely brought to the National Orchid Garden for a flower-naming ceremony.

But the activists said the Myanmar premier did not deserve to have the yellowish-brown orchid named “Dendrobium Thein Sein” because of his government’s poor human rights record.

They said it was “more befitting” to name the flower after opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Past recipients of the Singapore floral tribute include anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela and former UN secretary general Kofi Annan.

Thein Sein, who holds the rank of general in the Myanmar military, arrived in Singapore on Tuesday for a two-day visit. He had earlier visited Indonesia.

His trip came as the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi reported the arrest of five members and the United Nations chastised Myanmar’s rulers for their treatment of dissidents.

Four men and a woman who worked as organizers for the party were arrested last week in the commercial hub and former capital Yangon, said NLD spokesman Nyan Win.

A report on Monday by the top UN official handling human rights in Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, said many of the more than 2,100 political prisoners held in Myanmar have been sentenced in flawed, closed-door hearings.

Detainees suffered from a lack of medical care during imprisonment and from “physical ill-treatment” during interrogation, said Quintana, who visited Myanmar from February 14 to 19 in his capacity as a UN special rapporteur.

During the ASEAN summit in Thailand earlier this month, Myanmar embarrassed the hosts and the 10-nation organization by threatening to boycott a meeting with human rights advocates if a Myanmar activist was present.

The activist was not allowed into the session.

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