US official calls for clear message to Burma

Jan 16, 2008 (AFP), A US official on Tuesday called for the world including China to send a united message to Burma’s leaders that they are taking the country in "the wrong direction".

Scot Marciel, deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia, was in Tokyo to "exchange ideas" with Japan, which on Wednesday will hold talks with foreign ministers of Southeast Asian nations including Burma.

"What’s really key is for the entire international community — China but also the ASEAN, Japan, the United States, Europe, India, all — to be sending the same message to the regime that we are not anti-Burma," Marciel said.

The message should be that "the way the country is going is in the wrong direction, it’s having negative effects not only for the Burmese people but for the region. We all want you to move in a positive direction", he told reporters.

China has faced criticism for its political and economic ties with Burma since last year’s deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

Marciel said China "probably has more influence vis-à-vis Burma than any other country" but warned not to overstate it.

"I don’t think we’re sure that any government including that of China has the ability to tell the Burmese authorities what to do," he said.

"The Burmese regime is quite nationalistic and although they enjoy good relations with China, I don’t think that if the Chinese said, ‘you have to do this,’ they would necessarily follow," he added.

In December, US President George W. Bush threatened to spearhead a global campaign to step up sanctions against Burma if it continued to ignore calls for a democratic transition.

The junta has allowed a UN special envoy and a UN rights investigator to visit since the crackdown and increased contact with detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

However, the government has made few tangible concessions and in December it expelled the top UN diplomat in the country after he made a scathing statement on its dire humanitarian state.

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