Myanmar's ratification yesterday of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' charter, which commits members to standards of democracy and human rights, would seem a significant step. So, too, should be the hint by its foreign minister, Major General Nyan Win, that pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi could be freed from house arrest in a matter of months. The nation's ruling junta has a record of not living up to its promises. Given the changed circumstances, this must no longer be the case. The changes are by no means subtle. Asean, for one, made its strongest-ever criticism of the regime on Sunday, expressing 'deep disappointment' that Ms Suu Kyi's detention had in May been extended to a sixth year. This is a welcome break in the grouping's long-standing policy of non-intervention in the internal affairs of member nations. The reaction of the junta to Cyclone Nargis in May showed a lack of concern for the people of Myanmar. Its initial refusal to let international aid agencies help, despite the scale of the disaster and its inability to cope, forced Asean to intervene. The bringing together of the junta and foreign groups saved lives and eased suffering, despite coming so late. Asean is now well aware that its image and effectiveness will be at stake unless it insists on making the junta accountable. Myanmar was wrestling with Nargis' ravages when the military government went ahead with a referendum on a new constitution. Citizens purportedly gave it 90 per cent backing and it went into force on May 29. It allows for party democracy, freedom for all people and assures such legal rights as habeas corpus. Ms Suu Kyi is still being held under house arrest without charge despite the legal protections and rhetoric. The junta has barred her from participating in the political process, even if she is released. Hundreds of other people are being held as political prisoners. Ethnic groups are being denied equality. Myanmar's people do not have the freedoms and rights that they have been promised. Ushering in a system where the rule of law is upheld and the rights of people are guaranteed will take time after 46 years of military rule. But after all that the junta has said and done and with Asean's growing impatience, there can be no turning back. An obvious first step is for the country's leaders to release Ms Suu Kyi and her fellow political prisoners. There is no better way that they can prove their honesty to their people, the region and the world.