Saturday, May 16, 2009

Two US Senators Call for ‘Reform-minded’ Junta Leaders

The Irrawaddy News

WASHINGTON—Two powerful US lawmakers, one from the ruling Democratic party and one from the opposition Republicans, have urged Burmese generals to challenge the current authoritarian rule of Snr-Gen Than Shwe in Burma.

In a statement issued by Sen John Kerry and his Republican counterpart Sen Richard Lugar, both leaders of the powerful foreign affairs committee, they called for “reform-minded” leaders in the military junta to step forward.

Kerry is chairman of the committee, and Lugar is its ranking member. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee plays a key role in shaping US foreign policy.

“Now is the time for reform-minded leaders within the military junta to step forward and be heard,” said the statement. “Releasing Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners would signal the start of a constructive dialogue with the United States.”

Sources in Naypyidaw said that the junta’s top leaders noticed the lawmakers’ appeal, but one informed source said that any reformed-minded military leaders would need greater assurance and the full backing from the international community and the US to part ways with Than Shwe and other hardliners.

Observing that the Obama administration and Congress are reviewing America’s policy toward Burma, the two Senators said: “At this critical time, some in the junta are trying to leverage the recent alleged unauthorized entry into Aung San Suu Kyi’s compound to extend her detention.”

This action, they said: “sends precisely the wrong message to the citizens of Burma, the people of Southeast Asia, and all those in the global community who seek for the Burmese people the opportunity to live in a country where universal human rights are respected, not trampled.”

Both Kerry and Lugar are close confidants of Obama in matters of US foreign policy. Despite being a Republican, Lugar at one point was considered for the post of secretary of state in the Obama administration, the post that ultimately went to Hillary Clinton.

Obama’s rise to national fame started when Kerry, then the Democratic presidential nominee, gave him the opportunity in 2004 to address the Democratic National Convention; the speech made Obama a household name in the US overnight.

Meanwhile, US lawmakers continued to issue statements deploring the junta’s decision to charge Aung San Suu Kyi and hold her in Insein Prison in Rangoon.

“Her transfer from house arrest to prison to face criminal charges is a serious matter that deserves the strongest condemnation from the world's democracies—and from regional neighbors, including Thailand and China," said Sen Judd Gregg.

"The only thing criminal about Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been the abusive injustices she and her supporters have suffered under the State Peace and Development Council,” he said.

Rep Dana Rohrabacher said, “It has long since passed when the military dictators of Burma should have stepped aside and allowed a more honest and efficient government democratically chosen by the people of Burma.”

“Nothing undermines the legitimacy of the upcoming elections more than this type of maneuver against Aung San Suu Kyi by the military junta," said the lawmaker.

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