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U.S. Senators Ask Burma to Release Aung San Suu Kyi

24 May 2007

First lady Laura Bush, State Department reinforce calls for democratic reform

Washington – U.S. senators, backed by first lady Laura Bush and the U.S. State Department, called for the unconditional release of Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been detained under house arrest for nearly 17 years by Burma’s military junta.

“I really would like Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to know that the women of the United States Senate, as well as the women of the United States stand with her,” Laura Bush said at a May 23 meeting to launch the U.S. Senate Women’s Caucus on Burma. Senators from both parties called for Aung San Suu Kyi’s release and for reconciliation talks between the regime and the National League for Democracy, the party she leads.

“I applaud senators from both sides of the aisle for coming together to address Burma,” Laura Bush said in a statement released before the meeting. “Against the backdrop of ongoing human rights violations, I add my voice to theirs in urging the restoration of a democratic government and the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in Burma, including Aung San Suu Kyi.”

The United Nations estimates there are more than a thousand political prisoners being held in Burma. Although the National League for Democracy won a decisive election in 1990, the Burmese military junta refused to acknowledge the victory and imprisoned Aung San Suu Kyi and other party leaders.

California Senator Dianne Feinstein said the mission of the caucus was “to shine a light on one of the most critical human rights situations today.”  Feinstein said the situation “is not just about one woman,” but “about the treatment of a people who live under the fist of oppression.”

“Rape is practiced as a form of oppression. The use of forced labor is widespread. Human trafficking is rampant,” Feinstein said, adding that Burma is the world’s second-largest opium producer and, increasingly, a source of synthetic narcotics.

The senators asked for renewal of a complete ban on imports to Burma and urged the U.N. Security Council to pass a binding resolution on Burma. Feinstein said most of the Security Council voted for such a resolution earlier in 2007, but it was vetoed by Russia and China. “We hope they will not [veto it] again,” she said.

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison from Texas said reports that Russia is trying to sell nuclear equipment to the Burmese regime make democratic reform in Burma crucial. “We are supporting freedom and reform for Burma,” she said. She added President Bush and the first lady have taken a particular interest in “the plight of Aung San Suu Kyi.”

Citing recent arrests of peaceful activists praying for Aung San Suu Kyi’s release, citizens protesting the country’s poor economic conditions and attacks on human rights activists, State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said, “These aggressive actions against those peacefully seeking democratic change belie the regime’s professed commitment to national dialogue.”

“The United States calls on the regime to cease all violations of human rights, release all political prisoners and initiate a genuine political dialogue with all elements of Burmese society toward national reconciliation and transition to democratic rule,” Casey said in a May 23 statement.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s most recent term of house arrest comes up for review May 27. (See related article.)

A transcript of remarks by the first lady and some of the senators is available on the White House Web site.

The full text of Casey’s statement is available on the State Department Web site.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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