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US Official on Trip to Burma Seeks Clarification of Controversial Election Plans

The United States' Assistant Secretary of State, Kurt Campbell, arrives in Burma Sunday to seek clarification on the military government's plans for controversial elections. Campbell's visit comes just days after authorities dissolved the main opposition party of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State is to meet with representatives of Burma's military government Sunday and then on Monday with members of the now defunct opposition National League for Democracy.

Campbell did not say if he would meet with Burma's highest ranking leader, General Than Shwe, who rarely grants an audience to foreign critics. His government dissolved the NLD Friday for refusing to register under strict election laws for elections expected later this year.

The rules require parties to expel any members who have been jailed, including for their political beliefs, and to take part in this year's elections.

NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for most of the past two decades and hundreds of NLD members have been imprisoned for opposing military rule.

Before leaving for Burma, Campbell told journalists in Bangkok he would express U.S. concerns about the election preparations. He said he plans to discuss the elections separately with government officials and NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi as well as with members of ethnic groups and others contesting the elections.

"We are troubled by much of what we have seen," he said. "And, we have very real concerns about the election laws and the environment that has been created. And, we will be looking to clarify some questions and also to urge the government to broaden its overall approach."

Critics say the elections, the first since 1990, are a sham designed to keep the military in power.

Election rules also demand parties ignore the results of the 1990 poll, which the NLD won but were never honored, and support a 2008 constitution that guarantees the military more than a quarter of all parliamentary seats.

The United States and other countries have described the laws as a mockery of democracy.

Earlier Sunday morning in Bangkok, Campbell held talks with the Thai government, opposition and activists about the current political stand-off.

He said Washington strongly welcomes Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's roadmap for national reconciliation and commitment for new elections and hopes anti-government protesters seize the opportunity.

"Restraint and foresight are critical for both sides at this time," said Campbell. "However, it must be said we remain cautious about progress as those who don't want peace or political progress continue to employ violence as a means to undermine resolution of political differences."

At least 29 people have been killed and hundreds injured in shootings and grenade attacks during eight weeks of protests.

Thousands of Thais, mainly from the rural north, have been occupying a central commercial district demanding the government step down and call new elections.

The government has offered elections in mid-November and protest leaders have accepted but are negotiating conditions, including an official date for when the government will step down.