US official sees no progress in Burma

Dec 10, 2009 (AFP), There are no signs of progress towards democratic change in Burma despite Washington’s decision to hold direct talks with the country’s military rulers, a senior US diplomat said Wednesday.

High-level talks last month in Burma between the junta and US officials were "cautious" and made little headway, said Scot Marciel, the US deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs.

"It’s perhaps useful that we are talking, but that isn’t progress," Marciel said at a seminar organised by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, a Singaporean think tank.

"Progress will come when there’s change on the ground in Burma. So far, there’s been none," said Marciel, who was part of the US delegation led by Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell.

A lack of progress will make it difficult for the United States to continue its policy of engagement with Burma but Washington is willing to give it time to yield results, said Marciel.

"At some point if there’s no progress, it will be hard to sustain a dialogue but we’re not at that point yet and I think, as I said, we didn’t make progress on our trip," he said.

"On the other hand, we didn’t really anticipate that we were going to go there and make progress overnight.

"The problem is there is only one person who makes the decisions and that person has not yet shown a particular amount of openness," Marciel said in reference to Than Shwe, the chief of Burma’s military government.

Under President Barack Obama, the US government has adopted a policy of engagement after sanctions on the impoverished Southeast Asian country had failed to bring about desired reforms.

At a landmark summit in Singapore on November 15 with Southeast Asian leaders including Burma Prime Minister Thein Sein, Obama called for the release of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.

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