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Published: Wednesday, 4/6/2005

'Outpost of tyranny'

SECRETARY of State Condoleezza Rice's description of Myanmar as an "outpost of tyranny" hinted she might boycott Southeast Asia's main trade and diplomatic bloc meeting next year if that country is in charge. Let's hope that's what she meant.

The country's military junta has refused to free pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and allow democratic reform, and it doesn't deserve to sit at the helm of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Typically the secretary of state attends the annual ASEAN meeting, but she shouldn't go if Myanmar's military rulers are its hosts. An appearance by Secretary Rice - who included North Korea, Iran, and Cuba in her list of tyrannical outposts - would suggest the United States embraces oppressive regimes. That is not the signal Washington wants to send to a world already deeply suspicious of our intentions.

After 43 years, the military rulers have every intention of maintaining a firm grip on the former Burma. They blatantly ignored the outcome of elections held in 1990 that gave pro-democracy leaders a clear victory. Moreover, they have kept Ms. Suu Kyi under house arrest, ignored international calls to set her free, and continuously harass those brave enough to support her.

The United States and the European Union are among the foreign countries expected to attend ASEAN's meetings next year. In the past, both have spoken out against Myanmar's lack of democracy.

None of this, however, means much to the junta. Its key leader, Gen. Than Shwe, is determined to resist international pressure and continue self-reliance and self-sufficiency, but that's a prescription for disaster. Myanmar can't survive forever on its own.

Fortunately, some southeast Asian nations may object.

Interfering with one another's internal affairs violates an ASEAN founding principle. But there are exceptions to every rule, and the idea of such an oppressive government at the forefront of a trade and diplomatic organization requires one.

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