Wednesday, March 25, 2009

US official visits Burma: state media

SMH- A senior US official has paid a rare visit to military-ruled Burma for talks on boosting relations, state media says.

It is the latest sign of a possible change in approach by Washington.

Stephen Blake, director of Mainland South-East Asian Affairs at the US State Department, met with Burmese foreign minister Nyan Win in the administrative capital Naypyidaw on Tuesday, the New Light of Burma newspaper said.

The government-run paper said they held "cordial discussions on issues of mutual interests and promotion of bilateral relations between the Union of Burma and the United States".

The trip comes as US President Barack Obama's administration continues to review the tough stance his predecessor George W Bush took against Burma's ruling junta.

Official sources in Naypyidaw, the remote purpose-built capital opened by the regime in 2005, said it was the first time a senior US official had visited the city to promote bilateral relations between two countries.

They also said that a reception held by the US embassy for officials in Naypyidaw to introduce the visiting director was the first held by any foreign mission in the capital.

US embassy charge d'affaires Larry Dinger accompanied Blake, they said.

"Burma and the US have been friendly countries since the beginning. They were also the first country to recognise our independence from the British in 1948," a senior Burmese official told AFP.

"They misunderstood our country's situation after the 1988 uprising. We will not understand each other without talking. It was the first time a director of the US visited here for talks - the US did what they should do," he said.

There was no immediate comment from US officials.

Burma has been ruled by the army since 1962 and a student-led uprising in 1988 ended in a brutal military crackdown which left an estimated 3,000 people dead.

The junta ignored a landslide election victory by the party of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's in 1990 and critics say general elections planned for 2010 are a sham aimed at entrenching the generals' power.

The regime has handed out heavy jail terms to dozens of pro-democracy activists in recent months, many of them involved in protests led by Buddhist monks that erupted in 2007.

But US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last month that the Obama administration is reviewing its policy toward Burma to find ways to better influence the regime and help the country's people.

Bush's administration strengthened decade-old sanctions against Burma - imposed under his predecessor Bill Clinton - while his wife Laura was an outspoken critic of the military regime.

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