The Bush administration Thursday called for the immediate and unconditional release of Burmese democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi. It said reports that the 1991 Nobel Peace Laureate will remain under house arrest until next September indicate "unacceptable backtracking" by authorities in Rangoon.
Bush administration officials had hoped that the release of more than 9000 Burmese prisoners, including some political detainees, earlier this month was an encouraging sign from Rangoon.
But those hopes were deflated by word earlier this week that the country's most prominent democracy advocate, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been told that her house arrest has been extended at least until next September.
Aung San Suu Kyi led her National League for Democracy Party to a landslide victory in Burmese elections in 1990.
But the military junta that had taken power in Rangoon in 1988 refused to yield authority, and she has been under varying forms of detention for most of the last 15 years.
In a written statement Thursday, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan noted the reported extension of Aung San Suu Kyi's detention "with deep concern."
He said if true, it represents a return to a pattern of "unacceptable backtracking" on commitments the Burmese authorities have made to move toward democracy and national reconciliation.
The presidential spokesman said some of Burma's neighbors have engaged the military authorities in an effort to encourage positive change, but that these overtures "have been consistently rebuffed."
He said the generals in Rangoon must understand that they cannot indefinitely suppress the legitimate aspirations of the Burmese people, and resist what he termed "the world-wide march to freedom and democracy."
Mr. McClellan said the United States again calls for the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners, and to begin taking meaningful steps toward national reconciliation, democracy and improved human rights.
He said only then will Burma be able to rejoin the community of nations and ensure security and prosperity for its people.
The Burmese junta unveiled a multi-stage "road map" to democracy last year, which was greeted with enthusiasm by some members of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which Burma joined in 1997.
But the United States has been skeptical, especially since a national political convention held last May under the road map excluded Aung San Suu Kyi's party and ethnic group leaders.
Aung San Suu Kyi's latest detention began in May of 2003 after a government-orchestrated mob attack on a convoy carrying her and a group of supporters outside the capital.
The United States imposed tough economic sanctions on Burma after her arrest, including a ban on imports.
Earlier this week, the State Department warned that U.S. relations with ASEAN could be disrupted in the absence of progress toward democratization in Burma.
A spokesman said the secretary of state will have to decide "whether it is appropriate" to participate at senior levels in ASEAN meetings in Burma in 2006, when that country will hold the organization's chairmanship.