US says more pressure needed on Burma

Jan 22, 2008 (AP), A senior US official urged the international community Monday to put more pressure on Burma’s military rulers, saying the junta has made no progress in opening a dialogue with the pro-democracy opposition.

Last week, the UN Security Council said its envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, should return to Burma to help push for national reconciliation. Gambari wanted to visit later this month, but received a letter from Burma’s government requesting that he come in April.

Scot Marciel, the US deputy assistant secretary of state for Southeast Asia, told reporters in Hanoi that the US has asked China to try to help push for Gambari’s visit to occur earlier. He said Beijing was helpful in arranging access during the envoy’s first trip in November. China is one of Burma’s biggest trading partners and closest diplomatic allies.

"The regime in Burma is just absolutely refusing to take any positive steps at all, either in response to its own people or to the international community," Marciel said.

"The way Burma is going under this regime with its policies is downhill on all fronts," he said.

In October, the Security Council called on the regime to release political prisoners and improve human rights after a military crackdown on peaceful protests in September, when civilians and Buddhist monks were beaten and arrested after pro-democracy demonstrations following a sharp fuel price hike. The government said 10 were killed, but diplomats and dissidents put the toll much higher.

Marciel said India, another Burma ally, recently agreed to stop selling arms to the country.

Washington has placed economic sanctions on Burma that include a complete ban on the import of the country’s products and the freezing of some junta officials’ financial assets in US territories.

Marciel said there are plans to expand the list of officials and family members whose assets will also be targeted.

Marciel ‚ who was on a trip to Japan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Laos ‚ is pushing countries in the region to continue pressuring Burma to release pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest and to take steps toward a real political dialogue with opposition leaders.

"They’ve got no popular support, no legitimacy and, frankly, not very many good ideas," Marciel said of the ruling junta.

"Our belief is that if they hear consistently from the international community ‚ from everybody ‚ that they need to move, then that gives us the best progress."

The junta took power in 1988 after crushing the democracy movement led by Aung San Suu Kyi. In 1990, it refused to hand over power when Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won a landslide election victory. Aung San Suu Kyi has since been in and out of detention, usually under house arrest.

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