Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Top US diplomat in visit to Burma

The highest-ranking American diplomat to visit Burma in 14 years has offered improved relations if the country's military regime moves toward democracy.

Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell spoke after both talks with the ruling generals and a rare meeting with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who has been under house arrest for most of the last two decades.

Mr Campbell called on the military - which has ruled the impoverished country since 1962 - to open a dialogue with the opposition and ethnic minority groups, which are seeking a measure of autonomy.

He also urged the military government to allow Ms Suu Kyi more freedom to meet with people concerned with the political process, particularly her own party's senior executives.

The goals of the new US policy are "strong support for human rights, the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners and the promotion of democratic reform," Campbell declared to reporters at the end of his two-day visit. On Wednesday he met with Prime Minister General Thein Sein.

Mr Campbell and his deputy, Scot Marciel, are the highest-ranking American diplomats to visit Burma since 1995, when then-UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright made an official visit.

It was the second time in a few months that the junta allowed Ms Suu Kyi to meet with a senior American official. In August, US Senator Jim Webb met her and also held talks with Gen Thein Sein and top junta chief Senior General Than Shwe.

For years, the US had isolated the junta diplomatically and applied political and economic sanctions, which have failed to force the generals to improve human rights or release jailed political activists. The Barack Obama administration decided recently to step up diplomatic engagement as a way of promoting reforms.

Mr Campbell said he told junta officials that the US "is prepared to take steps to improve the relationship but that process must be based on reciprocal and concrete efforts by the Burmese government".

Earlier on Thursday Mr Campbell greeted Ms Suu Kyi with a handshake after she was driven to his lakeside hotel in Yangon, where they met for two hours.

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