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U.S. Firm For Burma Democracy

With a new president, the United States government is in a period of transition and the calls for change heard in the November election are being fulfilled in a number of areas. But there are other areas of continuity, and in Asia a prominent one is unwavering U.S. support for the aspirations of the Burmese people for a peaceful transition to democratic rule.

A special envoy from the United Nations was in Burma recently to press for political reform in a nation ruled by the military since 1962. The envoy, Ibrahim Gambari of Nigeria, met with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to discuss conditions there. After the meeting, they again called for the release of the estimated 2,000 political prisoners being held by the government.

Burma, sadly, is not a nation where change comes quickly. The military government has largely isolated the country to preserve its power, in a manner rivaled perhaps only by North Korea. So intent on maintaining control, the regime even initially resisted accepting international aid for the millions of people injured or dislocated by Cyclone Nargis.

The economic policies of the regime, intended largely to enrich the senior generals and their cronies, have had a devastating toll on Burma's economy. Where once it was one of the most prosperous nations in Asia, now the majority of the population lives on less than a dollar a day.

The military government says it will hold multi-party elections next year as part of a so-called "road map to democracy." But the generals have written a new constitution that seems to ensure the military will remain in power, no matter what the outcome of the voting.

Even with the change in administrations in Washington, the United States remains concerned about the situation in Burma and stands solidly with the Burmese people. It will also continue to press for the release of all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi.