US Backs Democracy in Burma Ahead of Independence Observance

02 January 2009

The United States Friday expressed hope for an early transition to democracy in Burma, also called Myanmar, marks the 61st anniversary of its independence from Britain on Sunday. The State Department said nearly four decades of military rule has impeded the country's development.

A written statement of good wishes to the Burmese people likened the country's independence struggle in 1948, led by General Aung San, to the United States' break from Britain nearly 200 years before, but said the Southeast Asian country is still awaiting democracy.

The State Department said the United States stands with the Burmese people in honoring Aung San's vision for an independent peaceful and democratic Burma, and earnestly hopes that the day when they can enjoy the fruits of freedom and democracy will come soon.

Aung San, the father of detained Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, was assassinated in Rangoon about five months before the country's independence on January 4, 1948.  

Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi (file photo)
Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi (file photo)
Burma was a parliamentary democracy until a 1962 military coup, and has been ruled since then by generals who voided the results free elections in 1990 won by Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.

The United States has been a persistent critic of military rule and has urged the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under detention most of the time since the elections despite winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

At a news briefing, State Department Acting Spokesman Gordon Duguid said the once-promising country has been driven down-hill by the generals.

"Although independent, they have not enjoyed that freedom for much of their history, he said. You may remember that Burma started out as one of the leading nations in Asia and that has not been the case recently under the military regime. They now lag in almost all indicators of societal development."

The United States maintains diplomatic relations with Burma, but at a sub-ambassadorial level.

The Bush administration has been a persistent critic of the ruling junta, including its recent sentencing of activists blamed for anti-government protests in 2007, and its rebuff of international aid offers after cyclone Nargis last May.

President Bush's wife Laura has had a high public profile on the issue, visiting Burmese refugees in Thailand last August.