US calls on Burmese junta to release Suu Kyi

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The Independent Online

President Barack Obama yesterday took the opportunity of a highly unusual face-to-face encounter with a top leader of Burma's military junta to bluntly demand the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Mr Obama delivered the strong message during his summit meeting with leaders of 10 Southeast Asian nations, which included Burma Prime Minister General Thein Sein.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters that Mr Obama called on Burma to free his fellow Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, and end the oppression of minorities. "Obama brought that up directly with that government," Gibbs said, indicating that the president addressed Gen Sein.

For decades, Western governments have avoided direct contacts with leaders of Myanmar because of the regime's poor human rights record and suppression of democracy. It is said that the last time an American president addressed a senior Burmese official was when Lyndon Johnson had military dictator Ne Win to dinner in 1966.

A joint statement issued after the summit – the first between a US president and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – devoted a paragraph to Burma, a major irritant in relations between the two sides. But the statement did not call for the release of political prisoners, including Suu Kyi, who has spent 14 of the last 20 years under detention by the military regime.