Laura Bush Promotes Freedom for People of Myanmar

Laura Bush on Monday used International Human Rights Day to call on Myanmar's military-run government to step aside if it cannot help bring about a democratic transition in the Southeast Asian nation.

The first lady held a video teleconference connecting the White House with officials at two locations in Thailand, which borders Myanmar, also known as Burma. Mrs. Bush spoke with Dr. Cynthia Maung, the founder of a medical clinic on the border of Thailand and Myanmar, and Ralph Boyce, the U.S. ambassador in Bangkok.

She said the people of Burma "are denied nearly every right" enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1948.

"For nearly 20 years, Burma's military regime has crushed peaceful dissent and jailed thousands of political prisoners," Mrs. Bush said.

"President Bush and I call on all nations, especially Burma's neighbors, to use their influence to help bring about a democratic transition."

She said the junta leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, "has offered only token gestures of reconciliation."

"If he and the generals are serious, they should give (pro-democracy leader) Aung San Suu Kyi unlimited access to the diplomatic and other members of the Burmese opposition," Mrs. Bush said. "She and other political leaders should be released immediately and unconditionally so they can plan strategy for Burma's peaceful transition to democracy. Members of the junta have promised to engage in serious dialogue with democratic representatives of the Burmese people. If Than Shwe and the generals cannot meet these very basic requirements, then it's time for them to move aside and make a clear path for a free and democratic Burma."

On Friday, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the U.N. human rights expert assigned to the country, said Myanmar's crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in September killed at least 31 people. But he said the actual death toll was likely much higher.