US, Britain, France make joint appeal on Burma

By David Gollust

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and foreign minister colleagues from France and Britain issued a statement Thursday urging global pressure on Burma's military government to end human rights abuses and return the country to civilian rule. The appeal was issued at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland after Rice's departure for Washington. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The use of Davos as a venue for the Burma appeal reflects, at least in part, frustration among the three western powers over the lack of action on Burma at the United Nations.

Following the harsh crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Burma last September, the U.N. Security Council censured the Rangoon government for the first time, and called on it to release all political prisoners and create conditions for a genuine dialogue with the opposition.

But Burmese authorities have defied the call. With China, a major trading partner of Burma, blocking tougher action, the Security Council last week managed only a statement expressing regret over what was termed the "slow pace of progress."

In their Davos statement, Secretary Rice, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the present situation in Burma cannot continue.

They called on those attending the Davos Forum, world leaders from all fields, to demonstrate that "while the Burmese regime may be indifferent to the suffering of the Burmese people, the world is not."

Briefing reporters in Washington, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said Rice, Miliband and Kouchner wanted to take advantage of what he termed the "critical mass" of influential leaders at Davos to stress the need for action on Burma.

"The decision was made among the three that this would be a good opportunity to remind people of the importance we place on this issue," he said. "Also, to encourage them to continue to take actions to press the Burmese regime to do what we all want to see them do, which is the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, the entry by the government, by the regime, into a real and honest dialogue over the future of the country, as well as taking some of the other steps that we've talked about."

The tripartite statement calls for the return to Burma by U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari as soon as possible, and the launch of a "substantive and time-bound" dialogue among the Rangoon leadership, democratic leaders and ethnic minority representatives.

The three foreign ministers said a unified call for genuine reconciliation and reform will be heard in Burma, and that those taking part at Davos would not be living up to their values if they ignored Burma's plight.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace Laureate, has been under detention most of the time since her National League for Democracy party scored a landslide victory in elections in 1990 but was barred from taking power.

The Davos statement said while Burmese authorities claim to be moving ahead with a "roadmap" to civilian rule, that process, already 14 years old, is open-ended and excludes Aung San Suu Kyi and other key political actors.