Friday, July 17, 2009

McCain Blasts Burma, Neighbors Ahead of Clinton Visit to Asia

The Irrawaddy News

WASHINGTON — on the eve of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s departure for India and Thailand, Senator John McCain urged her to push Burma’s neighbors to do more to support the cause of democracy in Burma.

McCain, who was the Republican candidate in last year’s US presidential election, also decried the Burmese junta’s decision to try opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on trumped-up charges.

“The junta’s latest actions are, once again, a desperate attempt by a decaying regime to stall freedom’s inevitable progress, in Burma and across Asia. They will fail as surely as Aung San Suu Kyi’s campaign for a free Burma will one day succeed,” McCain said on the floor of the Senate on Wednesday.

Noting that the US has a critical role to play as a powerful advocate of human rights, McCain added: “Nothing can relieve us of the responsibility to stand up for those whose human rights are in peril, nor of the knowledge that we stand for something in this world greater than self-interest.”

McCain was critical of Burma’s neighbors, including members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), for their failure to send a strong enough signal of solidarity with the Burmese people.

“The countries of Southeast Asia should be at the forefront of this call. Asean now has a human rights charter, in which member countries have committed to protect and promote human rights,” said McCain.

“Now is the time to live up to that commitment, and Asean could start by dispatching envoys to Rangoon in order to demand the immediate, unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi,” he added.

However, few people in Burma’s political opposition expect Asean to take a stronger stance against the regime.

“Asean acts like it is hitting a snake but doesn’t want to break its stick or kill the snake,” said Aye Thar Aung, a secretary of the Committee Representing the People’s Parliament, using a Burmese proverb to describe Asean’s efforts to put pressure on the Burmese regime.

“If [Asean] really applied its charter, they could change Burma,” said Khin Maung Swe, a spokesperson for the opposition National League for Democracy. “We hope they will do it this time.”

Referring to a statement by Burma’s ambassador to the UN, Than Swe, that the regime is planning to grant an amnesty to a number of prisoners so they can participate in elections slated for next year, McCain said Asean should demand that this pledge include all political prisoners, including Suu Kyi.

“Secretary of State Clinton will travel to Thailand later this month to participate in the Asean Regional Forum, and I urge her to take this up with her Southeast Asian colleagues,” McCain said.

Regarding the UN secretary-general’s recent visit to Burma, he said the ruling generals reacted in their typical fashion. “They stage managed Ban Ki-moon’s visit, even refusing his request to speak before a gathering of diplomats and humanitarian groups. Instead, before leaving, he was forced to speak at the regime’s drug elimination museum,” he said.

McCain also spoke out strongly in support of sanctions against the Burmese junta.

“It is incumbent on all those in the international community who care about human rights to respond to the junta’s outrages. This means renewing the sanctions that will expire this year, and it means vigorous enforcement by our Treasury Department of the targeted financial sanctions in place against regime leaders.

“And it means being perfectly clear that we stand on the side of freedom for the Burmese people, and against those who seek to abridge it,” McCain said.

Lawi Weng contributed to this article.

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