Page last updated at 10:10 GMT, Thursday, 24 July 2008 11:10 UK

Rice hits out at Burma 'mockery'

By Jonathan Head
BBC News, Singapore

Condoleezza Rice in Singapore on 24 July 2008
Ms Rice said Burma was out of step with the rest of the region

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has attacked the Burmese military's plan for a gradual restoration of democratic government.

Ms Rice, who is attending the annual summit of South East Asian countries in Singapore, described the plan as a "mockery which is going nowhere".

She praised Asean for helping persuade Burma's rulers to accept international help after Cyclone Nargis in May.

But she said mediation should not have been necessary after such a disaster.

'Real reform'

The appearance of Condoleezza Rice at this summit, after being absent in recent years, is being seen as a welcome sign of American re-engagement with South East Asia, but the Burmese delegation might wish she had stayed away.

After a meeting with the 10 South East Asian foreign ministers, and other regional powers, the US secretary of state accused Burma - also known as Myanmar - of being badly out of step with the rest of the region.

She gave credit to Asean (the Association of South East Asian Nations) for its role in opening up Burma to international aid after the cyclone.

She expressed hope that this precedent could now be expanded to persuading Burma's generals to embrace real political reform, rather then their tightly controlled roadmap to democracy, which she described as a kind of mockery.

US condemnation of Burma is nothing new, but open criticism from its Asian neighbours is - and there has been a lot more of it this year, albeit far more nuanced then what Ms Rice has been saying.

Asean is making much of its first charter, which it hopes will turn the association into a more effective regional bloc.

But the charter is supposed to enshrine human rights as a core value.

Watching the Burmese foreign minister sign it with a completely straight face, while his government continues to jail and harass its opponents, has been discomfiting for some Asean members.

Although others, like Vietnam and Laos which are scarcely less repressive, may be quietly glad that all the attention is focused on Burma.

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