WASHINGTON (AP) — Two senior U.S. diplomats and a lawmaker will make separate trips to Myanmar, where the military-dominated government has balked at releasing hundreds of political prisoners — a critical step for deepening relations with Washington.
The visits — including the first by a member of the U.S. House of Representatives in over a decade — build on the landmark trip by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in December. Then, the U.S. offered improved ties in return for progress toward democracy.
They travel to Myanmar as the Obama administration and Congress gauge the sincerity of its government in pursuing reform. While lifting sanctions is unlikely in the short-term, the U.S. could reward progress with the appointment of a full ambassador. The U.S. is currently represented in Myanmar by a charge d'affaires.
Myanmar, also known as Burma, ended decades of direct military rule after elections last year and freed Nobel Peace Prize-winning opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but she cautioned Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press in Yangon that reforms the government has started were not "unstoppable."
In recent months, restrictions on media have eased, Suu Kyi's party has been allowed to reregister, and more than 200 political detainees have been freed. But many high-profile prisoners still are serving long terms, and the U.S. says there are still more than 1,000 detainees. A long-anticipated clemency order issued by President Thein Sein this week reduced the jail terms of others, but few were released.
Derek Mitchell, who has shuttled between Myanmar and the U.S. since his August appointment as special U.S. envoy, will arrive Monday for meetings in the remote capital Naypyidaw and the main city Yangon. He also will travel to Bagan to see microfinance programs and other development work.
Also traveling to the country Monday will be State Department's ambassador-at-large on combating human trafficking, Luis CdeBaca, who is expected to raise U.S. concerns over the authorities' use of forced labor and the military's recruitment of child soldiers. He will also explore opportunities to strengthen the government's anti-trafficking efforts.
The envoys will be followed by the first in a series of U.S. lawmakers slated to visit this month.
New York Democrat Joseph Crowley, who spearheaded legislation that tightened the sanctions in 2008, is due to arrive next Thursday on a two-day visit, meeting with government officials, Suu Kyi and representatives from ethnic minorities. His staff said it will be the first visit to the country by a member of the U.S. House of Representatives since 1999, although Senate members have visited more recently.
Crowley told the AP in Washington that his visit did not in any way signal a willingness to ease sanctions.
"I think Burma has a long way to go. Some signs are encouraging, but we need to see more progress before we can address any changes to U.S. law," he said.
Influential Republican Sen. John McCain, who traveled to Myanmar in June and met with Suu Kyi and government leaders, is expected to make another trip this month, accompanied by independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, according to two people familiar with the plans who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to divulge them.
Myanmar is among the rare issues in Washington that attract bipartisan support, and the Obama administration's efforts to engage with the new government while retaining sanctions have been generally welcomed by both Democrat and Republican lawmakers.Tags: