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McCain to Assess New Burmese Government's Human Rights Commitment

Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks at a ceremony to welcome and acknowledge released political prisoners at the National League for Democracy head office in Rangoon, Burma, May 27, 2011

U.S. Senator John McCain will visit Burma on Wednesday for talks with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi aimed at assessing how serious the new Burmese government is about human rights reforms.

McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, is a long-time critic of Burma's military government, and a supporter of its pro-democracy opposition. He said he will use the trip to urge the nominally civilian government sworn in earlier this year to release an estimated 2,200 political prisoners languishing in Burmese jails.

On Tuesday in Bangkok, McCain told reporters that Burma's commitment to rights reforms will be measured by how the government handles Aung San Suu Kyi's upcoming tour of the provinces. He said he will ask government officials to allow her to travel freely.

Suu Kyi announced Tuesday that she will tour the country next month. It will be her first trip to the provinces since 2003, when a similar trip ended with her arrest.

The Nobel laureate marked the eighth anniversary of her arrest by announcing the tour, and said she has not received any safety assurances from the government.

On May 30, 2003, she and her entourage were ambushed by supporters of the military junta while touring upper Burma. U.S. analysts at the time said up to 70 people may have been killed. Suu Kyi escaped, but later was captured and placed under house arrest, where she remained until November 2010.

In advance of his trip, McCain visited the biggest refugee camp for Burmese in Thailand, at Mae Sot. Tens of thousands of refugees there are waiting either to return home or to be resettled elsewhere.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.