The US and its allies want Southeast Asian countries to put more pressure on Myanmar's military regime to release detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell said he would raise the question of democracy in Myanmar at a closed-door meeting yesterday of foreign and trade ministers from the 21 members of the APEC forum.
"We feel strongly that the international community should demand unequivocally the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and permit her to enter back into the civic life," he told reporters en route to Bangkok. "We believe that there is more that the nations of the region can do to apply pressure" on Myanmar, also known as Burma.
More sparks will fly on the issue when US President George W. Bush attends the APEC summit tomorrow and Tuesday.
Although Myanmar is not a member of APEC, it rarely fails to escape criticism at international meets pitting together its critics -- such as the US and Europe -- and its neighbors, some of them reluctant supporters, like Thailand and Malaysia.
Suu Kyi was detained following a bloody May 30 clash between her supporters and a pro-government mob while she was touring northern Myanmar.
The 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner has been under house arrest since Sept. 26, after spending a week in hospital for an operation for a gynecological condition. Before that, she was held incommunicado at an undisclosed location.
The junta first said she was being held for her own safety, but later said her detention was intended to safeguard public security.
"The Myanmar government should level with us. They should not evade the central issue of the immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi," said Blas Ople, the foreign minister of the Philippines, Myanmar's most bitter critic in Southeast Asia.
The US and the EU tightened sanctions on Myanmar after Suu Kyi's arrest.
Japan, which suspended aid, joined the US in demanding her release.
"We are very much concerned about the situation in Myanmar," Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hatsuhisa Takashima told reporters. "We hope Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi will be released. We hope this issue will be discussed [at APEC]."
The New York-based Human Rights Watch yesterday urged APEC leaders to "forge a common position to isolate and pressure the Burmese military government to respect human rights and return Burma to civilian rule."
It said Western pressure on Myanmar has been "undermined by continued support for the [regime] from China and Thailand and other Association of Southeast Asian Nations [ASEAN] countries.
Myanmar has been ruled by the military since 1962.
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