Activists reassured of American support
THANIDA TANSUBHAPOL and
United States President George Bush yesterday vowed to continue exerting pressure on Burma's military regime. Mr Bush assured a group of 11 pro-democracy activists of America's support during a lunch meeting at the home of US ambassador Eric John on Witthayu road in Pathumwan.
The meeting was attended by Aung Naing Oo, a political activist who was involved in Burma's 8/8/88 pro-democracy uprising, which was crushed by the military.
He quoted Mr Bush as saying the Burmese regime was difficult to deal with.
In an interview with reporters, Mr Bush also pledged to complain to Chinese leaders about human rights abuses in Burma.
He also explained why a tough approach towards Burma was still needed.
''We have to be tough because we believe that the generals have been very stubborn in not allowing freedom, and we believe that is wrong,'' he said.
However, Aung Naing Oo, who is now based in Chiang Mai, suggested Washington go beyond exerting pressure on Burma over human rights.
''The US government should engage with the Burmese generals for the long-term strategy of democracy development in the country,'' he told Mr Bush.
Before having lunch with the Burmese dissident, Mr Bush gave his speech on the US policy towards Asia on the last day of his visit to Thailand to celebrate the 175th anniversary of bilateral relations between Bangkok and Washington.
His speech attacked the Burmese junta and also praised Thailand for being what he considered a leader in the region.
''I was proud to designate Thailand a major non-NATO ally of the United States,'' he said in the speech at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center on Ratchadaphisek road.
''And I salute the Thai people for the restoration of democracy, which has proved that liberty and law reign here.''
In between delivering the speech and having lunch with the Burmese activists, Mr Bush relived his school days.
He went to Klong Toey to visit the Mercy Centre, run by Father Joe Maier, which has a shelter for street children, four orphanages, a hospice and a home for mothers and children with HIV/Aids.
In an art class, Mr Bush grabbed a green coloured pencil and joined children in creating colourful artwork to decorate the walls. He autographed some of their pictures.
The children replied with a wai.
Mr Bush's wife Laura, a vocal critic of Burma's junta, toured the Mae La refugee camp in Tha Song Yang district in Tak and the Mae Tao clinic in Mae Sot district, during which she called on the military regime to open dialogue with the pro-democracy opposition.
Highlighting abuses in military-run Burma has been the chief cause of the First Lady, and with her daughter Barbara she made her way through a muddy settlement which is home to tens of thousands who fled the junta.
She thanked the Thai government for allowing the nine camps, which house more than 120,000 refugees.
''If we could see a change in the Burmese government, people could move home in safety,'' the First Lady told camp leaders
''The best solution would be if Gen Than Shwe's regime would start real dialogue,'' she said after being greeted by refugees performing song and dance routines in traditional dress.
About 35,000 refugees huddle in the Mae La camp at the foot of forested mountains, which many risked their lives to cross in their desperation to flee military repression of ethnic minorities in their homeland.
Mae La is on the site of the first refugee camp, which was set up in 1984 as Burma's army advanced into Karen state and forced thousands over the border into Thailand.
The United States has pledged to resettle 26,811 of the refugees.
But Mrs Bush said: ''Most people do not want to have to move to third countries. They would rather move [back] to their home villages in safety and security.
''We urge the Chinese to do what other countries have done to put financial sanctions on the junta.''
Mrs Bush later rejoined her husband in Bangkok before flying to Beijing for today's opening of the Olympic Games