New Delhi (Mizzima) – Two New Delhi-based Burmese pro-democracy activists are participating in a five-day South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) conference, which began on Sunday in the northwestern Indian state of Rajasthan.
Speaking to Mizzima on Monday, Sakjan Kumar, a Central Committee member from the National Human Centric People Movement (NHCPM), organizer of the conference, said two Burmese activists - Salong and Tialte – had been invited to the conference focusing on global warming, environment, dehumanization and globalization.
“Two delegates from Myanmar [Burma] are also present here. Formally, Myanmar [Burma] is not a member of the SAARC,” explained Sakjan Kumar.
Sakjan Kumar said though Burma is not a formal member of SAARC, the grouping considers Burma an important country in equal standing to that of Pakistan, Bangladesh and other South Asian countries.
During the conference, a social activist from Bangladesh condemned SAARC members for their silence over the plight of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Burma’s northwestern region who have fled in large numbers to Bangladesh to escape discrimination and human rights abuses committed by the Burmese military.
Similarly, Gulshan Sharma, a student leader from India’s state of Jammu and Kashmir, also criticized SAARC members for their silence over the Burmese junta’s ongoing trial against pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Burma’s military regime officially applied for full SAARC membership in May 2008. However, the application is still being considered and the government is currently restricted to observer status.
Meanwhile, Dr. Tint Swe, Information Minister of the Burmese exile government National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), said Burma applied for membership to SAARC as it has, in recent months, received gradual pressure from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Burma is a member, over developments in the country.
“It is an act by which the Burmese regime is indirectly telling ASEAN that if they keep on pressuring them, they have another group to join,” Tint Swe told Mizzima on Monday.
Tint Swe also holds the view that the relationship between Burma and South Asian countries is based solely on national interest.
Tint Swe said representatives of Pakistan, Nepal and other countries that support democracy movements should raise their voices at the conference in concern for Burma and to press SAARC to secure the release of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Sakjan Kumar said that Burma is important to SAARC because of its strategic location between South Asia, China and Southeast Asia.
“In my understanding, Myanmar [Burma] must be a member of SAARC. We want Myanmar [Burma] to be included in the people of SAARC,” added Kumar.
SAARC was established in 1985 by the Heads of State of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Later, Afghanistan also joined the grouping.
Earlier in March, SAARC invited New Delhi-based Burmese poets and journalists to a literature conference held in Agra, the historic Indian city home to the Taj Mahal.