The United States had some blunt words for Burma’s military rulers - only more democracy will lead to better relations - and the messenger acknowledged Saturday that the remarks didn’t seem to go over too well.
Madeleine Albright, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said she told one of the rulers on Friday that “his country’s isolation would only deepen unless concrete steps toward political freedom” are taken.
Albright said she urged the government “to choose the path of true democracy rather than continued repression and dictatorial control.”
Albright is the highest-ranking official to visit Burma since a 1988 military coup. She said her two-day visit should not be interpreted as a warming of relations but rather as an affirmation of American support for democracy in Burma.
The United States has cool relations with the Burmese government, which it accuses of abusing human rights and refusing to cede power to the National League for Democracy, the main opposition party which won a landslide victory in a 1990 general election.
In an effort to ease its international isolation, Burma released the league’s founder, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, from six years of house arrest in July.
Foreign governments applauded the move, but have been slow to restore economic and political ties.
“They believe that releasing Aung San Suu Kyi was a big step,” Albright said. “So I think they might have been a little bit surprised that I wasn’t a little bit friendlier.”
Burma’s military government must choose “between its present isolation or reintegration into the international community,” Albright said at a news conference before leaving Burma.
She said she urged the regime “to choose the path of true democracy rather than continued … dictatorial control” and that the U.S. would only improve ties after “fundamental progress towards democracy and respect for basic human rights is achieved.”
She met Friday with Gen. Khin Nyunt, who heads Burma’s powerful military intelligence service and is widely regarded as the most powerful member of the ruling military council.
Albright said she urged the government to begin a dialogue with Suu Kyi and was “modestly encouraged” that the military might do so.
She also met with Suu Kyi for a typical Burmese breakfast of rice noodles and fish soup, and quoted her as saying “the sooner the dialogue begins the better.”
Albright’s visit is part of an official trip through East Asia that includes Indonesia and the Philippines. She heads the U.S. delegation to the fourth U.N. World Conference on Women in Beijing.