BANGKOK - Reuters
U.S. President George W. Bush flew into Bangkok yesterday on the latest leg of a pre-Olympics Asian tour, although his focus in Thailand was mainly on the "outpost of tyranny" junta in neighboring Myanmar.
In a broad speech on U.S. involvement in Asia to be delivered today, Bush will repeat his mantra for the former Burma's military rulers "to release Aung San Suu Kyi", the opposition leader and Nobel laureate detained for the last five years. In all, Suu Kyi, 63, has been in prison or under house arrest for nearly 13 of the last 19 years.
After a meeting with Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, Bush praised Bangkok for its role in helping funnel emergency relief to the victims of Cyclone Nargis, which killed 134,000 when it slammed into Myanmar's Irrawaddy delta on May 2.
"We want to see prosperity and freedom restored to Burma," he told reporters.
Today, he will cover the whole gamut of U.S. policy in Asia, from North Korea's nuclear program to regional security and trans-Pacific trade to his strongest criticism yet of China's attitude to human rights.
However, the timing of his visit and the schedule in place for him and his wife in Thailand leaves little doubt about his other main message.
As well as the start of the Olympics in Beijing, Friday is the 20th anniversary of Myanmar's "8-8-88" democracy uprising, when an estimated 3,000 people were killed when troops were sent in to crush nationwide protests.
On the eve of this numerically auspicious day, Bush will have lunch with activists who took part in the uprising before fleeing for their lives to Thailand, where they have campaigned for an end to military rule that stretches back to 1962.
Laura Bush, who has adopted Myanmar human rights as a personal cause, will travel to the Thai border to visit a refugee camp and health clinic for those fleeing the ethnic guerrilla wars that have roiled Myanmar's hinterlands for decades.
Under Bush, Washington has been at the forefront of the West tightening up sanctions against Myanmar, a policy criticized for merely increasing the international isolation in which junta supremo Than Shwe appears to revel.
The depth of distrust of the outside world was highlighted in May when the junta refused U.S. and French offers of military helicopters and ships to assist the victims of Cyclone Nargis.
"Nargis has shown that if the U.S. wants to help the Burmese people, they need to have some kind of relationship with the Burmese military government," Aung Naing Oo, one of the exiled dissidents set to meet Bush, told Reuters."Than Shwe wants to isolate Burma. If the U.S. tries to isolate Burma, they are simply doing Than Shwe's work for him," he said.