Senator: Myanmar Can't Chair Meetings

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The United States should boycott ASEAN meetings next year if Myanmar (search) takes over the Southeast Asian bloc's revolving chairmanship next year, the Senate's No. 2 leader said Wednesday.

Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also said the European Union (search) should make clear that Myanmar's chairmanship "is completely unacceptable."

McConnell, one of the top voices on foreign affairs in Congress, is chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee (search) that funds State Department operations and foreign assistance.

He has been the leading congressional critic of the military government in Myanmar and his views carry considerable weight on the issue with the Bush administration.

In a statement to The Associated Press, McConnell said he was "disturbed that our close ally Thailand continues to fully and unequivocally support the military junta" in Myanmar.

"Thailand is simply out of step with the region and with other world democracies," he said.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, has come under growing pressure in the region to make democratic reforms and release political prisoners, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Some regional politicians have urged Myanmar to relinquish the chairmanship of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations if the government fails to adopt such reforms.

McConnell said if Burma assumes the chairmanship, "the United States, the EU and the community of democracies should boycott any and all ASEAN meetings and events. To do anything less would betray the nonviolent struggle for freedom that Suu Kyi, the National League for Democracy (Suu Kyi's party), and the ethnic minorities have waged for over a decade."

The United States is not an ASEAN member but regularly attends its sessions. The U.S. government has raised the possibility of boycotting ASEAN sessions if Myanmar assumes the chairmanship, but has not said it would do so.