The United States Tuesday sharply criticized the Burmese government's decision to extend the detention of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. But President Bush said U.S. cyclone relief for Burma will continue. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
U.S. reaction was led by President Bush, who said he is "deeply troubled" by the extension of Aung San Suu Kyi's latest house arrest, which dates back to what he termed a "murderous assault" by government-backed thugs on her motorcade five years ago.
Mr. Bush, in a written statement, called on the Burmese military government to release all political prisoners and begin a genuine dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi, her National League for Democracy Party, and other democratic and ethnic minority groups on a transition for democracy.
Aung San Suu Kyi has been under detention most of the time since her party won national elections in 1990 but was barred by the military from taking power.
In comments here, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the extension on the Nobel Peace laureate's house arrest was hardly a surprise, but a sad commentary on the state of political freedom in Burma.
As did President Bush, McCormack said the latest action will not affect U.S. efforts help the Burmese people recover from the May 3 cyclone disaster:
"We've tried to separate out these two things," McCormack said. "While we're going to continue to speak out about the nature of the regime. And certainly our previous public statements about the terrible state of human rights in Burma stand, and we'll continue to speak out on behalf of human rights. But part of trying to do what is right for the Burmese people is to provide humanitarian assistance in this time of extreme need."
The United States has committed more than $20 million to Burmese cyclone relief, and has been airlifting basic supplies to Rangoon.
But the Burmese government has refused to admit a U.S. disaster team to assess actual needs in the devastated Irrawaddy delta, and has spurned offers of direct U.S. military deliveries to the stricken region.
In a statement Sunday on the Rangoon aid conference organized by the United Nations and ASEAN, the State Department reaffirmed the U.S. offer of aid experts and resources to help what it said were "the millions still in need."
It stressed the urgency of the Burmese government living up to its commitment last week to give international relief teams full access to cyclone-affected areas.
It also expressed dismay that in the midst of the disaster, the government conducted voting last Saturday on its widely-criticized draft constitutional referendum in regions affected by the cyclone.