January 8, 2008 / 2:40 AM / 13 years ago

S'pore's Lee criticises Myanmar military rulers

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore’s elder statesman Lee Kuan Yew has criticised Myanmar’s military junta, saying decisions such as the building of a new capital from scratch were irrational, a newspaper reported on Tuesday.

Singapore's elder statesman Lee Kuan Yew is seen speaking at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum in this June 10, 2007 file photo. Lee has criticised Myanmar's military junta, saying decisions such as the building of a new capital from scratch were irrational, a newspaper reported on Tuesday. REUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk/Files

Lee, speaking at a dinner hosted by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies on Monday, also said the military rulers were “people with very fixated minds - quite convinced that they will have the natural resources to weather any sanctions.”

The junta is under unprecedented international pressure to move toward political reform following its crackdown of pro-democracy protests last year.

But Lee, Singapore’s first prime minister and father of current premier Lee Hsien Loong, said that the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) had little influence over the junta.

“I mean (building a) new capital from ground zero, what I ask myself, what rational government would do this,” Lee, was quoted as saying by the Straits Times.

Singapore leaders have been critical of Myanmar but have stuck to the ASEAN policy of non-interference in members’ domestic affairs.

“The members of ASEAN who could influence them will be Thailand, and beyond (that) China and India. The rest of us — we are a kind of background muzak,” he said, using a slang for elevator music.

Western governments and activists have criticised the 10-member ASEAN for failing to do more to pressure the Myanmar junta to improve its human rights record.

Myanmar, formerly Burma, moved its capital city from Yangon to Nay Pyi Taw, about 390 kilometres to the north of the old capital, in 2005.

Asean groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Reporting by Kevin Lim

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