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US says Burma Out of Step on Human Rights, Democracy


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has criticized Burma's military government for being out of step with its southeast Asian neighbors on rule of law, human rights, and democracy. VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from Singapore Rice spoke to ministers attending a Southeast Asia security forum.

The meeting brought together ministers from 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN, who talked about issues including a brewing border conflict between Thailand and Cambodia and disaster preparedness in the wake of Cyclone Nargis in Burma.

But it was the matter of politics that overshadowed discussions on the impoverished, military-ruled country, which is a member of ASEAN. The group is usually reluctant to criticize Burma's generals, but ASEAN chair George Yeo, Singapore's foreign minister, said ministers at the meeting had raised concerns about the generals' continued house arrest of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

"On her detention, we expressed our deep disappointment and asked for her early release, of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners," he said.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking on the sidelines of the forum, said Burma is out of step with its fellow ASEAN members who aspire to the rule of law, human rights, and the development of pluralistic political systems.

Rice also expressed concerns about developments in Malaysia, another ASEAN member, where authorities have put an opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, under investigation for sodomy. Anwar was at the forefront of a major election upset that dealt Malaysia's long-ruling coalition the biggest loss of its history last March. The top U.S. diplomat urged Malaysia to ensure a transparent investigation, one that adheres to the rule of law.

Also on the ASEAN ministers' agenda was a brewing conflict along the border of Thailand and Cambodia. The two countries have been preparing for possible attacks stemming from a dispute over access to an ancient temple that sits on the border.

ASEAN chairman George Yeo said some ministers opposed Cambodia's decision to take the matter to the U.N. Security Council.

"It should not have to go to the U.N. Security council," he said. "It was not a problem just a few weeks ago. It has suddenly become a problem. Why has it become a problem?"

Yeo called Cambodia's action premature and said the dispute should be handled within the region.

Looming large at the security meeting was the North Korean nuclear issue. Secretary Rice held a rare meeting Wednesday with her North Korean counterpart as part of a gathering of six-party nuclear negotiations that also include China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea, on the sidelines of the forum.

Thursday, the U.S. official said it is now up to North Korea move the process along by accepting verification of its nuclear activities. Rice said the declaration the North made last month on plutonium production and other activities has left questions that need to be answered. A spokesman for the North Korean delegation said all issues, including verification, can be resolved if the U.S. delivers on its promises, in keeping with the principle of action for action.

North Korea has agreed to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for food and fuel aid. Washington has also promised to remove Pyongyang from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

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