US Denies Envoy’s Meeting With Myanmar Junta Is Policy Change
By Michael Heath
March 26 (Bloomberg) — The U.S. said a meeting between a senior State Department official and members of Myanmar’s military junta this week doesn’t represent a softening of America’s position toward the regime.
Director of the Office for Mainland Southeast Asia Stephen Blake met with Foreign Minister Nyan Win on March 24 in the capital, Naypyidaw, according to the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper.
Blake didn’t have “any substantive conversations” with officials in the country formerly known as Burma, “nor has the U.S. position on Burma changed,” State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said. The visit came as President Barack Obama’s administration reviews the stance of its predecessor on Myanmar.
The Bush administration led international criticism following the regime’s crackdown on pro-democracy campaigners in 2007 and tightened sanctions in January in one of its last acts. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last month the Obama administration is reviewing its policy to try to better influence the regime and help the people of Myanmar.
The New Light of Myanmar said Blake and Nyan Win held “cordial discussions on issues of mutual interest and promotion of bilateral relations.”
Blake later traveled to the former capital, Yangon, to meet with members of the opposition National League for Democracy, whose leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, has had only brief periods of freedom from detention since her party won 1990 elections. Those results were rejected by the military, which has ruled the country since 1962.
Blake met with the NLD’s central committee at its Yangon headquarters for an hour, Agence France-Presse reported, citing a party official.
The junta plans elections in 2010 after a referendum last year on a new constitution that it said was approved by 92 percent of voters. The NLD has denounced the charter, which bars Suu Kyi, 63, from holding office, saying it aims to extend military rule.
On the same day as Blake’s visit, a United Nations body affirmed the continued detentions of Suu Kyi and other pro- democracy activists are arbitrary and unjustified. Suu Kyi’s detention contravenes Myanmar’s own law, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said.
The State Department repeated its call for the regime to release more than 2,100 political prisoners immediately and unconditionally.
Blake’s visit to Naypyidaw was the first to the city by a U.S. official to promote bilateral relations, AFP cited unidentified Myanmar officials as saying. They also said the U.S. embassy’s reception in Naypyidaw to introduce the director was the first held by any foreign mission in the capital.
A Myanmar official said the U.S. misunderstood the country’s situation after a 1988 uprising, AFP reported. Anti- government protests that year were crushed in a military crackdown that killed more than 1,000 demonstrators, according to State Department figures. The U.S. and Myanmar won’t understand each other without talking, AFP cited the official as saying.
Last Updated: March 25, 2009 20:59 EDT
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