US urges end to abuses of Myanmar minorities

AP News
Posted: Oct 17, 2011 4:11 PM
US urges end to abuses of Myanmar minorities

Myanmar must release more political prisoners and end abuses against ethnic minorities if it wants to transform its relations with Washington, a U.S. official said Monday.

Special envoy to Myanmar Derek Mitchell noted a trend toward greater openness in the Asian country but said questions remain about Myanmar, also known as Burma, and its commitment to democratic reforms.

"Right now I think there are a lot of restrictions that make them into a pariah state. And Burma is a proud country with a tremendous history, and they deserve to come out of the shadows and take their prideful place in the region," Mitchell told a news conference.

Myanmar held flawed elections last year, its first voting since democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi swept a 1990 vote and was barred from taking power. The government recently stopped work on a controversial China-backed dam project and last week freed as many as 250 of its more than 2,000 political detainees.

Last month, Mitchell made his first visit to Myanmar since his appointment, aiming to advance the Obama administration's engagement with the military-dominated government after years of isolating it because of its poor record on human rights.

Mitchell welcomed the government's recent moves as encouraging and said his September visit yielded productive meetings with Myanmar officials, traditionally viewed as xenophobic. He said they were willing to discuss anything he raised.

He would not give specifics about how Washington could reward the government for progress toward positive change. Myanmar currently is subject to tough trade and economic sanctions.

He said the United States had made some gestures already: easing travel restrictions that enabled Myanmar's foreign minister to visit the State Department in Washington last month after attending the U.N. General Assembly in New York. The U.S. also is inviting Myanmar to participate in other international dialogues.

Mitchell called on Myanmar to release all remaining political prisoners and said that while the government had held discussions with the democratic opposition, it had not made comparable progress in its relations with ethnic minorities in the north and east. He said credible reports of human rights abuses, including against women and children, continue to emerge.

"We made it very clear that we could not have a transformed relationship as long as these abuses and credible reports of abuses occur," he said.

Myanmar is an ethnically diverse nation, and most of the minorities have taken up arms at some point against the government dominated by the military and the ethnic Burman majority. Legions of villagers have been displaced by brutal military campaigns, and this year has seen violence flare in the Kachin and Shan states against ethnic armies that had reached cease-fires with the Myanmar regime.