January 16, 2006

US envoy welcomes Asian moves on Myanmar

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - U.S. envoy Christopher Hill
welcomed Southeast Asian nations' efforts to push Myanmar's
military rulers toward democracy when he met Malaysian Foreign
Minister Syed Hamid Albar on Monday, U.S. embassy officials

The United States has led growing international opposition
to Myanmar over the past two years, tightening sanctions
against Yangon and branding it an "outpost of tyranny" for its
house arrest of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

Hill told Syed Hamid the United States was concerned over
Myanmar's political prisoners and the unpredictability of the
generals, most recently displayed by their decision to move the
capital from Yangon, an embassy spokeswoman said.

He also welcomed the Association of Southeast Asian
Nations' efforts to prod Myanmar in the direction of reform.

"And he said that he very much appreciated ASEAN's decision
to step out and be vocal about issues surrounding problems in
Myanmar, and also Malaysia's role in leading that charge," the
spokewoman added.

Growing tired of the intransigence of the generals,
Myanmar's normally diplomatic ASEAN partners last year forced
them to forgo their scheduled 2006 chairmanship of the
10-member group.

At an ASEAN summit in Kuala Lumpur last month, Myanmar's
junta, which has been in power since 1988, agreed to admit a
delegation led by Syed Hamid to monitor progress of the
country's self-proclaimed roadmap to democracy.

But Myanmar appeared to backtrack when it said this month
it could not host the delegation in January as planned because
it was tied up with the move to a new administrative capital at
Pyinmana, a remote area 200 miles north of Yangon.

Malaysia, which chairs ASEAN, said the group would continue
to work with Myanmar, and hoped to set a new date for the

"We hope to be able to talk to Myanmar on this visit and
get the date fixed," Syed Hamid told reporters after meeting

Asked about the talks, he said: "I was asked on what role
ASEAN can play after the U.N. special envoy had decided to

Former Malaysian diplomat Razali Ismail gave up his post as
U.N. special envoy to Myanmar when his contract expired on
January 3, expressing frustration that the junta had refused to
let him visit for 23 months. Hill's brief one-day visit to
Malaysia was his first as Assistant Secretary of State for East
Asia and the Pacific since being appointed last March. He left
for Cambodia on Monday.

Political analyst Bruce Gale said Hill's trip aimed to woo
Malaysia into closer cooperation with the United States on

But the Southeast Asian nation would probably prefer to
evolve a joint ASEAN stance rather than be perceived as being
too close to Washington's position, he added.

"It would be interesting to see if the Malaysians and
Americans can hammer out a joint stand," said Gale, who is
based in Singapore. "Perhaps they may be able to come up with
some sort of resolution they can all agree on."

Hill has called for a concerted effort by the international
community to pierce Myanmar's self-imposed isolation.

"It is incumbent on all of us to make clear to the regime
that the world will not accept a sham political process, but
that it would welcome and respond positively to tangible,
verifiable and irreversible steps toward a genuine national
dialogue that empowers the people of Burma ..." he wrote in the
Asian Wall Street Journal this month.