The military junta in Burma has reportedly arrested between sixty-five and one-hundred dissidents for leading protests against increasing fuel prices and deteriorating living conditions.
Those arrested include leaders of the 8-8 Generation Students Group, including Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi, both prominent Burmese dissidents. Min Ko Naing spent sixteen years in prison until his release in November 2004.
A U.S. State Department spokesman, Gonzalo Gallegos, condemned Burma's arrest of pro-democracy dissidents:
"The United States calls for the immediate release of these activists and for an end to the regimes blatant attempt to intimidate and silence those who are engaged in peaceful promotion of democracy and human rights in Burma. We call on the regime to engage in meaningful dialogue with the leaders of Burma's democracy movement and ethnic minority groups and to take tangible steps toward a transition to civilian, democratic rule."
The United States is also calling on Burma's military leaders to release all political prisoners, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy. She has been under house arrest for most of the past seventeen years. It is also critical that the Burmese government end its attacks on civilians in ethnic minority areas and lift restrictions on humanitarian organizations.
Burma's present economic crisis is a direct result of years of mismanagement by the military junta. The government's lack of accountability has turned a nation rich in natural resources and once among the wealthiest in Asia into one of the poorest in Asia. Burma was once a leading exporter of rice and also has some of Asia's largest reserves of natural gas.
The best way for Burma to improve its economy is to make government officials accountable to the voters through democratic elections. Improving relations with the United States depends on the Burmese military regime taking steps in that direction.