Burma's Junta Tightens Grip on Power

With the extension of Burmese democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest for another year and the junta's insistence on carrying on the second round of voting on a new constitution despite the devastating cyclone that has killed up to 130,000, it is apparent that the rulers of the tiny nation are in the process of consolidating even more power for themselves while hundreds of thousands of cyclone victims get precious little help from the government:

President Bush says he is deeply troubled by Burma's decision to continue the house arrest of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been detained since 2003. He called on Burma this week to release all of its political prisoners and to begin a dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi and her political party, the National League for Democracy, as well as with other pro-democracy and ethnic minority groups.

U.S. State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack says the extension of the Nobel Peace laureate's house arrest was hardly a surprise, and calls it "a sad commentary" on the state of political freedom in Burma. But McCormack says it will not affect U.S. efforts to help the Burmese people recover from Cyclone Nargis.

"We're going to continue to speak out about the nature of the regime and certainly our previous public statements about the terrible state of human rights in Burma stand and we'll continue to speak out on behalf of human rights," says McCormack. "But part of trying to do what is right for the Burmese people is to provide humanitarian assistance in this time of extreme need."

Despite promises to the contrary, the government has not allowed much aid to reach those most in need - victims that are far inland and difficult to reach because of still swollen rivers and severe flooding.

It should be said that the Chinese have not been extremely helpful. They are the only outside nation with any influence at all in Burma. But the Chinese government has their own earthquake disaster to worry about and besides, they have played a constructive, if limited role in the relief efforts.