Southeast Asia has changed dramatically since the foreign ministers of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand met in Bangkok almost 38 years ago to create the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Much of the region has since blossomed economically, socially and politically, although not in the uniform way those founding fathers would have wanted. That will be obvious to the regional grouping's foremost diplomats when they begin meetings in Laos today to assess progress and determine the way ahead over the next year. Thorniest of the issues they will encounter will be Myanmar. Of the five new members to join Asean since its founding, Myanmar has proved the most troublesome. Since a military junta took control in 1962, the country's people have been denied basic rights and freedoms, subjected to crimes of humanity including rape and slavery and become mired in poverty and disease. Under Asean's vision of bringing all the region's nations together in a spirit of friendship and co-operation, Myanmar was granted membership eight years ago yesterday. The thinking was that through interaction with other members, the military leaders would change their ways. That was the blueprint laid out by Asean's original members; it led to the quick resolution of territorial disputes, fostering and strengthening of dialogue on a host of common concerns and the putting in place of co-operative networks that have considerably boosted the economic standing of most members. Military regimes in Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand have since been replaced by democratically elected governments. That has not happened in Myanmar's case and the junta is arguably more hardline now than it was in 1997. Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy political party overwhelmingly won elections in 1990, remains under house arrest; many of her supporters are among the more than 1,500 people in prison for their opposition to the junta and promised reforms remain unfulfilled. Economic and diplomatic pressure through sanctions by the European Union and US have amounted to little. Asean's continuing policy of seeking a solution through economic co-operation, and closer links between the junta and the region's biggest powers, rivals China and India, have strengthened, rather than weakened, the military's hold on power. With key Asean trading partners the EU and US now counting on a solution coming from Southeast Asian nations, events this week in Vientiane are crucial for Myanmar's people. The problem for Asean's newest generation of foreign ministers is the nation's scheduled chairing of the grouping from the middle of next year. Permitting this would discredit Asean internationally and further strain ties with its foremost providers of foreign income. Pressure on Myanmar not to take the grouping's chair without political reform and releasing Ms Suu Kyi is increasing among Southeast Asian politicians. And it might pay off. There are signs Myanmar may give up the chair. At the signing of the document creating Asean in Bangkok in 1967, Thailand's then foreign minister, Thanat Khoman, observed that the region's people especially wanted 'to erase the old and obsolete concept of domination and subjection of the past and replace it with the new spirit of give and take, of equality and partnership'. 'More than anything else, they want to be master of their own house and to enjoy the inherent right to decide their own destiny,' he said. Those ideals have not changed. Myanmar has benefited from the fruits of being allowed into Asean, but its leaders have ignored the obligations of membership. If Asean is to live up to its charter, its foreign ministers this week must take a hard line towards Myanmar. Without Ms Suu Kyi's release and a promised timetable for political and social reform, its leaders must be sidelined and, if necessary, isolated from the rest of the region.