Thursday, July 24, 2008

US calls Myanmar's promise of democracy a 'mockery'; Asia-Pacific nations flay junta

By JIM GOMEZ,Associated Press Writer AP - Thursday, July 24

SINGAPORE - The United States blasted the Myanmar junta's oft-repeated promise to democratize as a "kind of mockery" Thursday, while Asia-Pacific countries urged the generals to take bolder steps to meet international demands.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice delivered a stinging rebuke to Myanmar, also known as Burma, before attending a security conference hosted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Myanmar is a member of the 10-nation ASEAN, whose foreign ministers meet every year with counterparts from 17 Asia-Pacific countries for the ASEAN Regional Forum.

In comments to reporters before the meeting, Rice noted the ASEAN charter aspires to the rule of law, human rights and the development of more pluralistic political systems.

"Burma is out of step, badly out of step," she said.

The foreign ministers attending the forum were to express their exasperation over the junta's unfulfilled promise to reform under a "roadmap to democracy" and free Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Myanmar should "take bolder steps toward a peaceful transition to democracy in the near future," the ministers said in statement, a final draft of which was obtained by The Associated Press.

The statement also urged the ruling generals to ensure general elections in 2010 are free and fair.

Rice renewed criticism of Myanmar for initially refusing international help in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in May, when several countries including the United States were "sitting literally offshore" with ships loaded with aid.

"When you have a situation (with) the junta refusing to let people in need be helped, you wonder how can the international community stand by and allow that to happen," she said.

She praised ASEAN for persuading Myanmar to accept help eventually.

ASEAN should find a way to move the country toward political reforms that would "make something of what is right now a kind of mockery, which is this roadmap to democracy which is going nowhere," she said.

ASEAN, which has been taken to task for not doing enough to pressure Myanmar's junta, held back its criticism after Nargis struck, fearing it would complicate efforts to convince the ruling generals to allow the entry of outside aid.

ASEAN consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

The junta in Myanmar came to power in 1988 after crushing a pro-democracy movement. It called elections in 1990 but refused to honor the results when Suu Kyi's party won overwhelmingly.

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