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Rice Urges Neighbors to Press Burma on Human Rights


Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Wednesday faulted Asian countries for not speaking out strongly enough on human rights abuses in Burma. Ms. Rice raised the issue in her policy speech to foreign minister colleagues at the APEC summit in South Korea.

Ms. Rice says the human rights situation in Burma is appalling and goes far beyond the well-known case of detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The secretary of state raised the issue in her policy address to foreign ministers at the APEC summit, saying that, when what she calls "tyrannical" governments like Burma abuse their citizens and deny their rights, it is the responsibility of all free nations to condemn those actions.

Later, at a briefing for reporters who traveled with her from Washington, the secretary of state implicitly faulted Burma's fellow member countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations, for not being assertive enough with the military leadership in Rangoon:

"I don't think we get the kind of international condemnation of what's going on in Burma that we really need. And, I understand that a lot of countries that are neighbors of Burma feel the need to engage them," she said. "But, I would hope that engagement also takes the form of being serious about the really quite appalling human rights situation in Burma."

Ms. Rice says, beyond the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese authorities have made what she termed "really systematic efforts" to silence critics of the regime, and to put human rights organizations "completely out of business."

She says she decided to raise the issue of Burma in her APEC statement because it is too often overlooked by people who do not concern themselves with human rights and democracy issues everyday.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been under detention most of the time since 1990, when her National League for Democracy party won national elections but was barred by the military from taking power. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in 1991.

American officials have been frequently been critical of ASEAN's approach to Burma, and when Secretary Rice canceled plans to attend an ASEAN ministerial dialogue in Laos in July, it was widely seen as a snub of the organization, even though U.S. officials said a scheduling conflict was behind the decision.

The Bush administration imposed sweeping trade and investment sanctions against Burma because of human rights concerns, two years ago.