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US Says Burmese Prisoner Release Insufficient

The United States has welcomed Burma's release of about 20 political prisoners, but said the military government should free all its political detainees including democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The Obama administration is reviewing U.S. policy toward Burma.

State Department officials say it is unclear if the Burmese prisoner release was a gesture toward the Obama administration, which is reviewing all aspects of U.S. policy toward Burma including tough trade sanctions.

But they say in any event, the release was insufficient and that the reclusive military government should free all the estimated 2,100 political prisoners it holds.

News reports from Burma say about 20 political detainees are among the more than 6,000 prisoners being freed under a general amnesty that began Saturday.

At a news briefing, State Department Acting Spokesman Robert Wood said the release of the political prisoners, including a member of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy Party held for more than 20 years, was welcome but lacking.

"It is a step. We obviously welcome the release of all political prisoners," he said. "But we call on the Burmese to release all political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi. We will have to see if this leads to more releases. Obviously the release of any political prisoners is something we would welcome. But a lot more needs to be done."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is just back from a tour of Asia, has ordered the review of U.S. policy toward Burma, which has relied on broad trade sanctions, and travel and financial penalties focused on the senior military leaders, to try to prod the country toward reform.

Spokesman Wood said the review ordered is aimed at finding out a way to influence the behavior of the military government, given that trade sanctions and other aspects of Bush administration policy toward Burma really have not worked.

"Nothing has really moved," he said. "And we have got to try and find a way to move the Burmese government in the direction that we want them to move in. And it is something the Secretary cares very deeply about. And she is frustrated, as we all are, that things have not progressed the way we would have liked to have seen them progress."

On a stop in Indonesia last week, Secretary Clinton said it is unfortunate that the Burmese leadership seems impervious to outside influence.

A senior official who spoke to reporters here said Clinton is looking for what he termed the right mix of incentives and disincentives to get the Burmese leadership to free all the political detainees.

He said the near-total U.S. ban on trade with Burma is among issues being reviewed as well as whether the United States might engage the Burmese leadership more directly.

The United States has not had a full ambassador in Burma since 1990, the year Aung San Suu Kyi's party won parliamentary elections but was barred from taking power.