Renewing Myanmar focus, US to name envoy

Renewing Myanmar focus, US to name envoy
# 03 April 2011 01:01 (UTC +04:00)
Baku-APA. President Barack Obama will soon appoint the first US special envoy on Myanmar, officials said, signaling a renewed effort to pry open the nation after its much criticized political transition, APA reports quoting website.
People involved in the process said Obama would name Derek Mitchell, a veteran policymaker on Asia who now serves at the Pentagon, as the coordinator for US efforts for the country formerly known as Burma.
A US official said on condition of anonymity that the administration would announce the nomination "very soon" and likely roll out Mitchell with an appearance before Congress, a hotbed of criticism of Myanmar.
After Obama took office in January 2009, his administration initiated a dialogue with the military leadership of Myanmar after concluding that Western efforts to isolate the military-led nation had been ineffective.
The United States has voiced disappointment over developments in Myanmar, including an election in November widely denounced as a sham, but has said that it sees no alternative to dialogue with the regime at such a fluid time.
Kurt Campbell, the top State Department official for East Asia, had personally spearheaded the Obama administration’s efforts on Myanmar and traveled twice to the isolated country.
Congress approved a wide-ranging law on Myanmar in 2008 that tightened sanctions and created the special envoy position. Then president George W. Bush named Michael Green, formerly one of his top aides, but the nomination died in the Senate due to an unrelated political dispute.
Green, now a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Georgetown University, said Mitchell’s expected appointment would give momentum to Myanmar policy -- provided that the administration gives him enough space to maneuver.
"Kurt Campbell wanted to make a serious run at this. He did as well as could be expected but it yielded no positive change, so now they want to invest this with someone who has a full-time commitment," Green told AFP.
In naming an envoy, Campbell could escape the criticism leveled against his predecessor in the Bush administration, Christopher Hill, who was accused in some quarters of neglecting most of the dynamic Asia region because he was personally engrossed in denuclearization negotiations with North Korea.
Myanmar’s ruling junta officially disbanded on Wednesday, giving the country a nominally civilian government for the first time in nearly a century. But many analysts called the move a masquerade, as top junta figures remain firmly in leadership positions, albeit without their uniforms.
In one development welcomed overseas, Myanmar authorities last year freed pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The Nobel laureate had spent most of the last two decades under house arrest after her party won previous elections.
Suu Kyi has no voice in Myanmar’s new parliament. Her National League for Democracy was disbanded after it chose to boycott the elections, which it suspected were designed to marginalize the opposition and ethnic minorities.
In an address Saturday to activists gathered in Washington, Suu Kyi appealed for sustained world attention on her country -- which human rights groups say experiences some of the world’s most severe abuses.
"At this moment, Burma is at a crossroads," Suu Kyi told the meeting of the US Campaign for Burma in a video message.
"There are those who say that we have come to a place where there is change visible, but there are those of us who believe that change has not yet come -- no visible change, just superficial change, not real change.
"May I say to renew your efforts once again to make sure that the Burma cause is kept alive at all the important places where it should be kept alive -- in the minds of governments, in the minds of the United Nations, in the minds of peoples all over the world," she added.
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