Wednesday, July 22, 2009

US seeks allies' aid on Burma

Clinton's assistant holds talks with Puea Thai Party


(Bangkok Post) -The US is pinning its hopes on close cooperation with Thailand and other Asian partners in pressing for change in Burma, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says.

Washington was also continuing to express its concern about the unfair trial of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Mrs Clinton said yesterday.

"We're very much engaged with partners such as Thailand and others in assessing and determining what is going on inside Burma," the secretary of state said after talks with Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva at Government House.

"And we hope we can effectively change the direction and behaviour of the Burmese leadership. We have been closely working with our partners."

Mrs Clinton is on an official visit to Thailand and will join her Southeast Asian counterparts in Phuket today for talks, followed by the Asean Regional Forum tomorrow.

The US was very concerned about the continued human rights abuses in Burma and was closely watching the trial of Mrs Suu Kyi, she said.

Mrs Clinton urged the Burmese regime to treat the National League for Democracy leader fairly, saying the junta's handling of Mrs Suu Kyi's case was "unacceptable".

Mrs Suu Kyi has been charged with violating the terms of her house arrest after an American man swam across the lake in Rangoon to hide himself in her residence. She is currently being held at Insein prison in Rangoon following her arrest in May.

Mrs Clinton said the US wanted to have a productive partnership with Burma but the junta would need to take a step back in its treatment of its ethnic minorities and all political prisoners as well as the issue of Mrs Suu Kyi. She said Burma knew well that it needed to do this.

The US secretary of state also expressed concern about suspicions of military cooperation between North Korea and Burma.

"We take this matter seriously," she said, adding it posed a threat to regional stability.

Deputy Prime Minister Korbsak Sabhavasu yesterday said Thailand was ready to work closely with the US.

Asean ministers on Monday urged the release of Mrs Suu Kyi and called for fair elections in Burma next year. But they stressed there would be no interference in Burma, which is one of the 10 members of the grouping.

Human Rights Watch yesterday urged Prime Minister Abhisit, who currently chairs Asean, to force Burma to end human rights violations, release political prisoners and restore democracy.

"The role of Asean and Thailand to lead principled international engagement on political, security and humanitarian issues in Burma is urgently needed," the group said in a letter to Mr Abhisit.

"As the current chair of Asean, Thailand should take Burma to task for breaching the Asean Charter on human rights and democratic values," said the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Bangkok Post.

There are 2,100 political prisoners in Burmese prisons, according to the New York-based group.

US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell yesterday held separate talks with Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban and the Puea Thai Party hours before Mrs Clinton arrived in Bangkok.

Mr Suthep said Mr Campbell had asked Thailand to help support political reconciliation and a road map to democracy in Burma and the release of Mrs Suu Kyi.

Mr Campbell and the US delegation, including US Ambassador to Thailand Eric John, met with Puea Thai leader Yongyuth Wichaidit and several core members including Yingluck Shinawatra, a sister of convicted former prime minister Thaksin, and former foreign minister Noppadon Pattama.

Later, Pittaya Pukkaman, who heads Puea Thai's foreign affairs team, said the party explained the current problems with democracy in Thailand as well as human rights to Mr Campbell.

Mr Pittaya said the party also discussed its efforts in pushing for dialogue to solve the problems and the obstacles which hinder such efforts.

"The problem is that we are being treated unfairly which is undermining any negotiation attempts," he said.

When asked if the issue of the ousted prime minister, Puea Thai's de facto leader, was raised, Mr Pittaya said the talks did not focus on any individuals.

He said the US delegation expressed hopes the opposition and the government would work together to solve Thailand's problems through legal and constitutional means.

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