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Rice Vows Continued Pressure on Burmese Government


Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Friday promised continued U.S. efforts, in the United Nations and with influential Asian countries including China, to press Burma's military leaders to negotiate with the democratic opposition. In a news conference, Rice lamented that pressure on the Burmese government has eased in recent months. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Rice says the human rights situation in Burma has become a "focal point" for the Bush administration, which she says will return to the issue "again and again" in the United Nations and elsewhere to press for democratic change.

The Secretary told reporters at a year-end news conference the United States wants the Burmese military leadership to listen to detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and to end its "simply unacceptable treatment" of United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari.

Rice said she is concerned that world attention on Burma has faded since last September's government crackdown on protesting Buddhist monks that drew widespread criticism. "I thought that at the time of the (U.N.) General Assembly, when the monks were in the streets, that there was an energy in the international community to try to do something about it. And frankly, as the international community unfortunately sometimes does, that energy dissipated. And it's our responsibility along with others to try to keep a focus on that effort," she said.

Rice said the U.N. mission of Gambari, a former Nigerian Foreign Minister, needs to be given more vigor and a higher profile.

Gambari, visiting Burma twice since the September crackdown, has met with military leader General Than Shwe and been allowed to see Aung San Suu Kyi, but his efforts have otherwise yielded no tangible results.

Gambari met earlier this week in Washington with President Bush's wife Laura, who has taken a special interest in the Burmese situation.

Mrs. Bush said in a statement Tuesday the Burmese government is failing to meet even the minimal expectations of the U.N. Security Council in its unanimous statement of concern on Burma October 11th.

She said it has made no meaningful attempt to engage democratic activists, but rather continues to harass and detain them.

Mrs. Bush said while rejecting calls for a democratic transition, Burma's military leaders have put the country "in shambles" and placed its people in peril.

In a written statement Friday, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack deplored arrests this week of six more members of the so-called "88 Generation Students," veterans of a 1988 Burmese student uprising who remain politically active.

McCormack again urged the release of all political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi and a meaningful dialogue, with a set time-frame, among Burmese authorities, the opposition and ethnic minorities, on a transition to a civilian democracy.

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