Myanmar misses democratic opportunity: Hillary

Hillary Clinton said Myanmar missed an opportunity to begin a transition to democracy.

Melbourne: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday that Myanmar missed an opportunity to begin a transition to democracy and national reconciliation by holding "severely flawed" weekend elections.

Clinton said the Obama administration would still speak to the military leaders but maintain "rigorous sanctions" against them while they hold political prisoners, abuse human rights and ignore dialogue with the opposition.

Clinton`s statement, issued in Australia while she wraps up a seven-country Asia tour, reinforced those President Barack Obama gave in India criticising the first elections in Myanmar for 20 years as neither free nor fair.

Both Obama, who was starting an Asia tour of his own, and Clinton renewed appeals for the release of Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, along with all other political prisoners.

The British-educated Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi, who is strongly supported by the United States, led her party to victory in 1990 but the result was never recognised by the ruling generals.

She has been detained for most of the past 20 years and is supporting a boycott of the latest election.

Two pro-military parties are together fielding about two-thirds of the total candidates, leaving the splintered opposition with little chance of success.

"The generals who have ruled the country for the past 22 years missed an opportunity to begin genuine transition toward democratic governance and national reconciliation," Clinton said.

Washington was "deeply disappointed" with Sunday`s elections where there were reports of intimidation and where foreign media and independent election observers were barred from monitoring them, she said.

"The electoral process was severely flawed, precluded an inclusive, level playing field, and repressed fundamental freedoms," said the chief US diplomat, who added that the vote was neither free nor fair.

In promising US support for the people of Myanmar who aspire to a peaceful and democratic future, she said the Obama administration would "pursue parallel strategies of pressure and principled engagement".

Those strategies amount to maintaining sanctions against the regime while being open to speak with the military junta about ending its repressive policies.

The US administration will work within international bodies like the United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian nations "to pursue accountability and bring an end to human rights abuses", she said.

Calling Myanmar by its former name of Burma, she said the United States is committed to offering humanitarian assistance to those who need it in the impoverished southeast Asian country.

"Burma`s leaders must come to realise -- after five decades of sustained internal conflict, economic mismanagement, and international pariah status -- that Burma needs a better way forward," she said.

Bureau Report