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US to talk to Burmese military

Hillary Clinton at the UN 22.9.09
Hillary Clinton says the US wants "credible reform" in Burma

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says Washington will engage directly with Burma's military rulers in a bid to promote democracy there.

Mrs Clinton said sanctions alone had not changed the government's behaviour.

The new approach follows a review of US policy towards Burma initiated after President Barack Obama took office.

Burma's hardline regime has refused to release political prisoners, including Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, despite international pressure.

Mrs Clinton's announcement came after talks with international diplomats on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. The talks were chaired by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

"We want credible democratic reform, a government that responds to the needs of the Burmese people, immediate, unconditional release of political prisoners... serious dialogue with the opposition and minority ethnic groups," she said.

"We believe that sanctions remain important as part of our policy, but by themselves they have not produced the results that had been hoped for on behalf of the people of Burma.

Aung San Suu Kyi supporter at UN in New York 23.9.09
Supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi have lobbied the UN General Assembly

"Engagement versus sanctions is a false choice in our opinion," she added.

"So, going forward we will be employing both of those tools, pursuing our same goals. To help achieve democratic reform, we will be engaging directly with Burmese authorities."

Existing US sanctions against Burmese leaders would remain in place, Mrs Clinton said, but could be eased if "the core human rights and democracy issues that are inhibiting Burma's progress" were addressed.

US officials said that Congress would be briefed on specifics of the new policy of engagement on Thursday, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Next month a Burmese court is due to give its verdict on Ms Suu Kyi's appeal against her extended house arrest.

Ms Suu Kyi was sentenced in August to a further 18 months' house arrest after a US intruder stayed at her home.

She has spent 14 of the past 20 years in detention and the extension will keep her out of elections next year.



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