US, Australia pressure Myanmar, Fiji over rights

US, Oz will "deepen their partnership" with the people of Pacific islands.

Melbourne: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Sunday that the United States and Australia will press military regimes in Myanmar and Fiji to respect human rights and pave the way for democracy.

Wrapping up her two-week Asia tour in Australia, the chief US diplomat again condemned the military junta in Myanmar, which on Sunday was holding its first election in 20 years amid complaints of intimidation.

"We look at Burma today holding flawed elections that once again expose the abuses of the military junta," Hillary said in a speech at the University of Melbourne, using Myanmar`s former name.

"And it`s heartbreaking because the people of Burma deserve so much better," she said, adding she nevertheless hoped the elections would produce some leaders who will pursue a more democratic path.

"And Australia and the United States will continue to work together to establish an international commission of inquiry to hold those leaders in Burma accountable for human rights violations (and) continuing persecution of ethnic minorities," she said.

Activists have long sought an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in the country, with which President Barack Obama`s administration initiated dialogue last year.

Delivering a speech in Hawaii on October 28 at the start of her seven-country trip across Asia, Hillary threw her weight behind a probe, which could lead to international warrants for junta leaders.

As Myanmar held its vote, democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi remained locked up and two pro-military parties were together fielding about two-thirds of the total candidates, leaving the splintered opposition with little chance of success.

Hillary also vowed to keep up the pressure on Fiji, where Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama seized power in a 2006 military coup.

"We are going to be working together with Australia to persuade the military government in Suva to meet its commitment to bring democracy back to Fiji," Hillary said.

"In the short term, we would like to see steps that advance political freedom, such as allowing professional civilians to return to key government ministries," Hillary said in her speech.

Bainimarama has grown increasingly isolated from the international community with a rule-by-decree regime and strict censorship which he has defended by saying he does not trust his own people.

Hillary later held talks with new Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who has offered solid support for the US-led international mission to stabilise Afghanistan.

Hillary said Afghanistan, cyber security, counter-terrorism, the peaceful use of outer space and China`s monopoly on strategic rare earths minerals are all topics that will come up on Monday during annual security talks.

Gillard said the implications of China`s rise would be a key topic at the talks, and the two countries would explore expanding the US military presence in Australia and boosting collaboration between its defence forces.

Hillary and US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, who arrived in Melbourne on Sunday, will attend Monday`s AUSMIN talks along with their Australian counterparts Kevin Rudd and Stephen Smith.

On the flight to Melbourne, Gates said the US military plans to bolster its presence across Asia and is looking at an expansion of ties with Australia`s armed forces.

Hillary and Gillard meanwhile announced joint measures aimed at protecting the environment and at boosting the competitiveness of their solar industries.

The chief US diplomat also sought Australian support to boost US trade in the Pacific region.

The United States and Australia will also "deepen their partnership" with the people of the Pacific islands, she said.

"Together we will look for more opportunities to work together on education, health, women`s empowerment, and sustainable economic development as well as championing democracy and human rights," she added.

Australia is the final country on an Asia Pacific tour that has taken Clinton to New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, Cambodia, China and Vietnam.

She is due to return to Washington on Monday via American Samoa.

Bureau Report

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