Sunday, July 26, 2009

Myanmar criticizes Clinton following ASEAN meeting

YANGON, Myanmar (San Francisco Chronicle-AP) -- A Myanmar state-run newspaper on Sunday accused U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton of interfering in the affairs of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations after she urged its members to press for more democratic reforms in the country.

Clinton, who attended the ASEAN Regional Forum last week in Thailand, also called on Myanmar to unconditionally release pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is on trial for allegedly violating the terms of her house arrest and faces a possible five-year prison term.

"It amounts to interfering in the affairs of the ASEAN," according to a commentary in the state-run Myanma Ahlin daily. "If ASEAN complies with the instruction of U.S. Secretary of State, ASEAN will become the follower of United States."

Myanmar is one of ASEAN's 10 member countries.

The commentary also suggested that American calls for Suu Kyi's release were part of a long-term plan to place someone in power in Myanmar whom it can control.

Clinton saved some of her toughest criticism during the forum for Myanmar and North Korea, which is not an ASEAN member. She expressed concerns that North Korea, already a threat to its neighbors and the U.S. with its history of illicit sales of missiles and nuclear technology, is now developing ties to Myanmar's military dictatorship.

Clinton also offered Myanmar the prospect of better relations with the United States, but said that depended in part on the fate of Suu Kyi.

Myanmar state media rejected the criticism, accusing those calling for Suu Kyi's release of "interference" and "showing reckless disregard for the law."

Suu Kyi, 64, is charged with violating the terms of her house arrest by harboring an uninvited American man who swam to her lakeside home and stayed for two days in May.

Western diplomats in Yangon generally believe that Suu Kyi will be found guilty, with the verdict expected sometime next month.

The trial has drawn condemnation from the international community and from Suu Kyi's local supporters, who worry the ruling junta has found an excuse to keep her behind bars through elections planned for next year.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been under military rule since 1962.

Suu Kyi's opposition party won national elections in 1990, but Myanmar's generals refused to relinquish power. Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for 14 of the past 20 years.

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