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Powell Urges Thailand, Neighbors to Promote Democratic Change in Burma - 2003-10-18

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell pressed Thailand and its neighbors Saturday to do more to promote democratic change in Burma, starting with the release of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Mr. Powell held bilateral meetings in Bangkok Saturday in advance of the APEC summit meeting.

The Bush administration has been openly critical of what it considers a passive approach to the political impasse in Burma by members of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

And Mr. Powell pressed in talks for a second straight day here for ASEAN countries to use all possible means to promote democratic change in Rangoon.

At a photo session with his Thai counterpart, Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, Mr. Powell said ASEAN countries have a major role to play, since Burma is "in their neighborhood." He said a political reconciliation process in that country must begin with freedom for Aung San Suu Kyi.

"All the nations of the world, especially the nations of ASEAN, should do everything that they can, using all the tools at their disposal to push for democracy in Burma," he said. " And I think, it begins with the release of a leader of the Burmese people, who has been constrained and confined, so that she is able to perform a leading role in moving Burma to democracy."

ASEAN drew U.S. criticism earlier this month, when its leaders, in a summit communique, spoke of "positive developments" in Burma, an ASEAN member, including the issuance by the military leadership in Rangoon in late August of a so-called democracy "road map" for elections and the drafting of a new constitution.

U.S. officials faulted the plan, saying it lacked a timetable and any specific mention of Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy Party.

But the Thai foreign minister defended the approach of his government and its ASEAN partners, saying they shared with the United States the goals of democratic change in Burma, and the release of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, but that there are different ways to work toward those objectives.

A senior U.S. official quoted Mr. Powell as telling his Thai counterpart that the performance of the Burmese regime will be measured by its treatment of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party swept national elections in 1990, but was barred from taking power.

Earlier Saturday, in closed-door remarks to an APEC ministerial plenary, Mr. Powell called on APEC, which has traditionally focused on trade and economics, to do more to counter the threat of terrorism.

The senior official said Mr. Powell told his colleagues that security and economics are "inseparable," and that he put special emphasis on the danger posed by shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles that might fall into the hands of terrorist groups.