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US Rejects Burmese Charge of Promoting Instability - 2004-01-28

The United States Wednesday rejected a charge by Burma's military-led government that it is trying to de-stabilize the Southeast Asian country. The State Department said any instability there is the result of a lack of progress toward democracy.

The Bush administration has brushed aside a Burmese government charge that it is trying to foment instability in the country, saying in response that the country's problems including a lagging economy are the result of the policies of the Rangoon authorities.

The comments followed a Burmese government statement that urged the United States to abandon what was termed a "misguided attempt to de-stabilize" Burma and instead become a positive partner in democracy.

At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that for there to be stability in Burma, there needs to be "substantive discussions" among the government, the democratic opposition and the country's ethnic minorities leading to national reconciliation and restoration of democracy.

"The lack of that dialogue, the lack of progress in the direction of real democracy, is the reason for any instability there. It's the responsibility of the government to allow such substantive discussion, and the first step toward that end would be the immediate and unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other prisoners," he said.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace laureate and head of Burma's National League for Democracy party, has been under house arrest, and other party leaders jailed, since a violent clash between her supporters and government agents last May.

The United States has criticized a so-called "road map" to democracy unveiled last August by the Burmese government because it did not include the early release of Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party won national elections in 1990 but was prevented from taking power.

The Burmese government statement said that country is "on the road to democracy" and poses no threat to anyone, and it reiterated criticism of U.S. economic sanctions, which it said have created hardships for the Burmese people.

Spokesman Boucher said the economic situation in Burma is the result of the government's "mismanagement."

The United States banned imports from Burma under legislation approved by Congress and signed by President Bush last July.

The ban, which U.S. officials acknowledge has caused job losses in Burma's textile industry, is to be lifted only if there is substantial progress on improving human conditions and labor standards there.