Malaysia foreign minister plans trip to Myanmar

Malaysia's foreign minister said Tuesday his planned trip to Myanmar to monitor the progress of democracy has stalled again because of stonewalling by the country's military rulers.

Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar told reporters that the junta has failed to respond to his request to let him visit in the middle of this month, further delaying a trip that was to have taken place in January.

"I have given them some dates for the middle of this month but they have not come back to us. We take it that they will not be able to receive us on those dates," Syed Hamid said. But he added he is hopeful of being allowed to visit the country in April.

"We hope they will open up," he said.

The veteran diplomat was chosen by the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to visit Myanmar to verify the junta's claims, greeted by skepticism by the West and many Asian countries, that it is making progress toward democracy.

Myanmar, a member of ASEAN, agreed in December to host Syed Hamid after intense pressure from its neighbors. ASEAN has been chided by the West for not pressing Myanmar's military rulers, in power since 1962, to restore civilian rule.

Syed Hamid has also said he wants to meet with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is currently under house arrest. The junta refuses to let any outsider see her.

Syed Hamid expressed hope that Myanmar will let him visit before an ASEAN foreign ministers' retreat in Bali, Indonesia April 17-18.

I.L.