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Clinton Urges Asian Pressure on Burma for Free Elections

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is urging Asian countries to join the United States in pressing Burmese authorities to make elections planned for next year free, fair and credible. Clinton briefed fellow foreign ministers from the APEC Pacific-rim countries in Singapore on the Obama administration's efforts to engage the Burmese military government.

Clinton says bringing stability to Burma through political reform should be a shared objective of that country's neighbors, including regional powers India and China.

At a news conference after a day of meetings with fellow foreign ministers of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, Clinton said the region already suffers from spill-over effects of Burma's political problems.

"Left alone, the internal problems within Burma are not confined within Burma's borders," she said. "We have seen refugee flows out of Burma. People taking to boats, ending up in Malaysia, ending up in Indonesia, ending up in Australia, crossing the border into Thailand. That instability is not good for anyone."

The Obama administration sent two senior envoys last week to Burma to begin a promised attempt at dialogue with authorities there.

Clinton said she has no illusions that bringing change to Burma will be easy or quick and said U.S. sanctions against the military government will remain in place until, as she put it, "we see meaningful progress in key areas."

The United States has demanded the release of detained Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, though Clinton said under questioning the future role of the Nobel peace laureate in the country's political life is for the Burmese to decide.

"We think this has to be resolved within the Burmese people themselves, so we are not setting or dictating any conditions," she said. "We want to help facilitate the space and opportunity for the Burmese people to work out the challenges they face in having free and credible elections and setting forth a plan for a more prosperous and peaceful future."

Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy Party won elections in 1990, but was barred from taking office, was allowed to meet last week with the visiting U.S. diplomats.

A senior U.S. official who briefed reporters said Aung San Suu Kyi is supportive of the U.S. outreach effort. He said the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under various forms of detention for much of the past two decades, is "absolutely" necessary if the United States is to move forward with any fundamental engagement with Burma.

U.S. President Barack Obama attends a summit-level session of the 21 APEC countries here early next week and will also have a meeting Sunday with the 10 leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian nations.

Burma is an ASEAN member country and its Prime Minister Thien Sein is expected to take part in the session with Mr. Obama, though the White House says they will not have a one-on-one meeting.