US president Barack Obama has told Burma's junta to free pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, a US official has said.
Obama delivered the message during his summit yesterday with leaders of 10 south-east Asian nations in Singapore, which included Burma prime minister General Thein Sein.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters that Obama called on Burma to free Suu Kyi and other political prisoners and to end oppression of minorities.
He said President Obama “brought that up directly with that government”.
Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi has been in detention for 14 of the last 20 years.
For decades Western governments have avoided direct contacts with leaders of Burma because of the regime's poor human rights record and suppression of democracy.
A joint statement to be issued after the summit — the first between a US President and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations — is expected to devote an entire section on Burma, a major irritant in relations between the two sides. The statement is not expected to contain a US proposal to call for the release of political prisoners, including Suu Kyi.
But a direct appeal from Obama carries more weight as he is the most powerful leader to have conveyed the message directly to a top Burma official.
Before the summit the 11 leaders gathered for a photoshoot for a few minutes, but Obama and Thein Sein stayed far from each other and made no contact of any sort.
The Burma government has said it intends to hold elections next year as the first step toward democracy but has not clarified whether Suu Kyi will be allowed to participate. The junta refused to honour the result of the last elections in 1990 when Suu Kyi's party won by a landslide.
The US-Asean joint statement is expected to call on Burma to ensure that the 2010 elections are “conducted in a free, fair, inclusive and transparent manner in order to be credible to the international community”.