Despite crackdown on monks, Myanmar pledges tolerance

Posted at 03/17/10 5:37 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Myanmar on Wednesday pledged to promote a culture of tolerance despite international outrage over an appalling human rights record that includes its crackdown on Buddhist monks.

"We are committed to promote and strengthen a culture of peace and dialogue," Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win told a ministerial meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in Manila.

"I hardly need to stress the importance of harboring mutual respect among people of different faiths," he stressed.

"If we fail to show respect and discriminate against other religions, conflicts and tensions among peoples will linger on.

"We fully agree that tolerance is a fundamental value of international relations," he said.

However, Myanmar remains an international pariah over its continuing crackdown on Buddhist monks and opposition members.

In a report late last year, Human Rights Watch said as many as 240 monks had been jailed in Myanmar, with thousands of others defrocked or living in fear of arrest for their role in mass demonstrations in 2007.

The rights group said as many as 2,200 political dissidents were in detention in Myanmar.

Myanmar also recently provoked international anger after the ruling junta passed laws effectively preventing Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi from taking part in elections this year.

In a meeting scheduled with Nyan Win later Wednesday, Philippine Foreign Minister Alberto Romulo is expected to criticize the laws and call for their repeal.

Nyan Win side-stepped the issue, saying that the discussions with Romulo would focus only on bilateral relations.

Romulo said earlier he would urge the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to which both Myanmar and the Philippines belong, to call for a reversal of Myanmar's decree, at the bloc's annual summit in Vietnam next month.

ASEAN, which groups 10 nations, maintains a policy of non-interference in its members' affairs. But that has slowly begun to erode in recent years, with the Philippines taking the lead in criticizing Myanmar's junta.