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05 September 2007

U.S. State Department wags disapproving finger at Myanmar junta's democracy charade

I wonder if this official criticism of the Myanmar military junta was partly inspired by the publicity and attention Jim Carrey's youtube video in support of the detained democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi has been receiving. It's something of a diplomatic miracle that the U.S. State Department even noticed anything in Myanmar.


The Associated Press
Tuesday 4 September 2007

US calls Myanmar's
constitutional convention
a sham that does nothing
for democracy

WASHINGTON -- The United States called Myanmar's efforts to draft a new constitution a sham that excluded opponents of the military regime and barred open debate.

U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Tuesday the national convention's conclusion Monday coincides with a harsh government crackdown on activists.

"The results of this illegitimate convention clearly do not represent the will of the Burmese people, nor are they a step toward democracy," Casey said.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, called it a successful first step back to democracy. Critics say the process is a stage-managed farce because pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is under house arrest and could not attend.

Protests against the government's raising of fuel prices have entered a third week despite government efforts to block them by force.

The constitution guidelines, yet to be published in full but reported in part in state media, ensure the military a prominent role in politics and bar Suu Kyi from holding elected office.

The current junta took power in 1988 after violently subduing mass protests that sought an end to military rule, which began in 1962.

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United States Department of State
Press Statement
Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
September 4, 2007

Conclusion of the Burmese Regime’s "National Convention"

The “National Convention” concluded by the Burmese regime yesterday is a sham. Delegates to the convention were hand-picked by the regime and have not been allowed to engage in open debate about a new constitution. This convention also excluded the National League for Democracy, Burma’s largest democratic political party. The conclusion of the National Convention coincides with a brutal crackdown on citizens for peacefully exercising their freedom of expression. The results of this illegitimate convention clearly do not represent the will of the Burmese people, nor are they a step toward democracy.

The international community, including the United States, repeatedly has called for a genuine and inclusive dialogue between the Burmese regime and the leaders of Burma’s democracy movement and ethnic minority groups. Burma’s ruling generals continue to resist such a dialogue and brutally suppress the movement for democracy and respect for human rights in Burma.

The United States renews its call for dialogue leading to a legitimate, civilian, democratic government that respects human rights. We call upon the Burmese regime to stop immediately the arrest and harassment of non-violent political activists, release all political prisoners, end its attacks on civilians in ethnic minority areas and other human rights abuses, and lift restrictions on humanitarian aid organizations in Burma.


The Christian Science Monitor
(Boston Massachusetts USA)
Wednesday 5 September 2007

The great game over Burma

As Burma's erstwhile ally,
China needs international pressure
to end the military's harsh rule.

China and the US are budding partners in Asia – aside from their usual rivalry – after they forced North Korea to partially relent on its nuclear ambitions. Now they should work jointly on another repressive regime, Burma's junta, and free the world's most famous political prisoner, Aung San Suu Kyi.

This weekend, President Bush plans to press the US case for political freedom in Burma with his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, at the annual summit of Asian-Pacific nations in Australia. He's not alone in this effort. First lady Laura Bush, who rarely speaks out on world issues, called the UN secretary-general last month to ask that he not remain silent about Burma's recent crackdown on dissidents and that he push for Security Council action.

The time is ripe for change in this Southeast Asian country, despite 45 years of military rule. On Aug. 19, the regime was forced by its bumbling policies to raise prices on fuel by up to 500 percent. For a people already racked by poverty and inflation, the higher prices slice deep. The political damage was particularly acute because Burma (also known as Myanmar) exports natural gas to Thailand.

And despite the government's harsh repression, a number of protests against the fuel hikes were held in big cities, with dozens of arrests adding to the more than 1,000 political dissidents already in jail.

History has a lesson here.

In 1988, a similar economic jolt led to protests that forced the military to hold an election. After Ms. Suu Kyi's party won, however, the election was annulled. Since then, this daughter of modern Burma's founder, who was awarded the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, has spent most of the time under house arrest. The regime has since tried to appease foreign critics by drafting principles for elected government. But the long process is largely seen as a sham to keep military rule.

Meanwhile, conditions in Burma have become so bad that the International Committee of the Red Cross criticized the regime for "immense suffering for thousands of people," breaking its usual silence about the governments it works with.

Last January, the US was able to force a UN Security Council vote on a resolution that cited Burma's threat to regional security. But Russia and China vetoed it, a sign of big-power rivalry over this nation of 52 million people. Along with India, Russia and China have a rising stake in Burma's resources and ports. China, however, is Burma's erstwhile big ally, and deserves the most international pressure to show leadership by forcing the generals to relinquish power.

China did act and set up talks between the US and Burmese officials in June, but little came of it. By contrast, the China-hosted US talks with North Korea eventually did produce results but only because the US is a major player on the Korean peninsula. China, however, is the dominant foreign force in Burma and is seeking global respectability. With more than a million Chinese entrepreneurs in Burma and with hopes of using Burmese ports for easier shipping, Beijing can't afford instability in its southern neighbor.

The road to Burmese freedom won't be easy. But both China and the US have a stake in at least ending the military's grip on one of the world's poorest countries.

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