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Rice On Burma


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says democracies "cannot turn a blind eye to those who still live under oppression," including in Burma:

"A country that was once the jewel of Southeast Asia is now out of step with the entire modern experience of its region. A once thriving economy has collapsed. Universities that once attracted the best Asian minds are locked shut. The Burmese regime is now literally retreating into the depths of the country, closing its people off from the world and robbing them of their future."

Burma's ruling military junta seized power in 1988. Two years later, the junta ignored the results of democratic parliamentary elections and continued to rule by decree. This year the junta, led by General Than Shwe, is moving the capital from the port city of Rangoon to Pyinmana, a small town in a mountainous region some three-hundred-ninety kilometers to the north.

According to the latest U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights, conditions in Burma deteriorated over the past year. Human rights abuses committed by the junta include politically motivated arrests and detentions, torture, rape, forced labor, and the suppression of freedom of speech and assembly. Burma continues to hold approximately one-thousand-one-hundred political prisoners. It also restricts domestic human rights organizations and fails to cooperate with international human rights organizations. This past year, the junta has increased restrictions on United Nations and international nongovernmental organizations operating inside the country, making it difficult for these groups to access project sites and implement critical humanitarian programs.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy leader and Nobel peace prize winner, has been detained since May 2003 without charge, when thugs affiliated with the Burmese government brutally attacked her convoy. She was imprisoned and subsequently transferred to house arrest. In 2005, the junta extended her incommunicado detention.

Meanwhile, according to independent human rights and non-governmental organizations, the Burmese junta has created more than one million internally displaced people since the 1960's, and hundreds of thousands more have fled the country, finding refuge in Thailand, Bangladesh, and Malaysia.

As Assistant Secretary of Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill stated before the U.S. Congress on February 7, Burma's "continuing socioeconomic decline and growing role as an exporter of problems to the region only add to the urgency of the situation. The road ahead is not short, but by continuing our intense efforts, we can effectively promote freedom for Burma's long-suffering population."

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Barry Lowenkron was recently in Southeast Asia. He says the U.S. is committed to working with others "to bring about change that is long overdue in Burma." He says, "The hardships that the Burmese people endure are unacceptable."

The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.

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