By Foster Klug
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Activists opposing Myanmar’s military-run junta will lose a powerful ally in January when first lady Laura Bush moves out of the White House.
Voter dissatisfaction with President George W. Bush’s Republican Party could also cost them Myanmar’s fiercest congressional critic in Mitch McConnell. The Senate’s top Republican is battling to retain his seat in the face of Democrats intent on bolstering their control of Congress with a strong showing in the Nov. 4 elections.
Laura Bush and McConnell — who once headed the panel responsible for financing international programs — have used their high profiles to draw attention to human rights abuses in Myanmar and the 13-year detention of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
Activists in the country say Bush’s support has been invaluable.
“The world takes an interest in Myanmar’s ethnic issues because of her,” said Han Tha Myint, a spokesman for Myanmar’s opposition National League for Democracy. “It is moral support for us even though we are not clear how much of the support can translate into change.”
Despite the praise, it is questionable whether their efforts have significantly helped Myanmar’s democracy movement. The generals remain firmly in power, and Suu Kyi appears no closer to freedom.
Laura Bush, a former teacher and librarian, has brought the issue to the attention of many Americans, while also casting a spotlight on it abroad.
During a recent trip to Asia, she met with refugees on the Thai border with Myanmar and prodded China, which has large economic interests in Myanmar, “to do what other countries have done — to sanction, to put a financial squeeze on the Burmese generals.” ♦
Associated Press Writer Grant Peck contributed to this story from Bangkok, Thailand.