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US Envoy Urges Burma to Make Concrete Steps Toward Democracy

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The most senior U.S. diplomat to visit Burma in 14 years says Washington wants better relations with that Southeast Asian country, if its military government takes concrete steps toward democracy.

Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell ended a two-day visit to Burma Wednesday, after meeting with members of the government and the opposition. He also met privately in Rangoon with detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, following talks with Prime Minister Thein Sein in the administrative capital, Naypyidaw.

At the end of his visit, Campbell said in a statement issued by the U.S. embassy in Rangoon he urged Burma's government to open dialogue with its opposition and ethnic groups, and to work toward national reconciliation and a fully inclusive political process in Burma.

Campbell and his deputy, Scot Marciel, are the highest-level American officials to visit Burma since 1995.

The U.S. delegation held talks with Burma's Cabinet ministers Tuesday. Campbell met with Burma's top diplomats in September in New York, after the Obama administration announced it is reversing the previous U.S. policy of isolating Burma. But Washington has said there will be no easing of sanctions against the regime until it demonstrates tangible progress.

The U.S. and European countries have long imposed sanctions against Burma's military government because of rights abuses. Human rights groups say that in addition to Aung San Suu Kyi, the government is holding more than 2,000 people as political prisoners.

The U.S. and the United Nations are pressing Burma to release all political prisoners so they can participate in next year's election. But some analysts say high-level U.S. visits only give legitimacy to the military regime that jails its opponents.

Burma's military has been in power since 1962. Aung San Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, won the vast majority of seats in the 1990 parliamentary election, but the military refused to concede power. It has kept the Nobel Prize laureate under some form of detention for 14 of the last 20 years.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.