Shadow Secretary of State for International Development visits dissidents and IDP’s in Burma and tells regime it is “wicked and illegitimate”

Shadow International Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell MP, has returned from a visit to Burma, where he told a senior representative of the military regime that Burma is a ‘pariah state’. In the first face-to-face meeting inside Burma in at least a decade between the brutal military junta and a senior British politician, Mr Mitchell told U Kyaw Thu, the Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister and a former brigadier general, that the regime running Burma is “wicked and illegitimate”.

Mr Mitchell said: “People in the West regard your Government as a pariah state. It is wicked and illegitimate. You spend only a dollar a year per head on health and education and people are suffering terribly up and down the land.”

Mr Mitchell called for the release of all political prisoners and the beginning of meaningful tripartite talks between the junta, opposition leaders and separatist rebel groups. He insisted that a transition process to democracy be started immediately.

In the heated exchange, U Kyaw Thu denied the existence of political prisoners in Burma, and refused to allow Mr Mitchell to visit Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.

The charismatic leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) has been kept under house arrest for most of the 17 years since her party overwhelmingly won the only free elections to be held in Burma since the 1950s.

Speaking after the meeting Mr Mitchell condemned her continuing detention, saying that she represented a ‘beacon of hope’ for the people of Burma.

In the course of his visit to Rangoon Mr Mitchell also held covert meetings with senior members of the NLD and other opposition figures including the leaders of the 1988 student revolt.

Mr Mitchell also met NGO leaders who called for a reconsideration of the isolationist policies of boycotts, travel and investment bans and trade sanctions organised by the West towards Burma. They argued that greater trade and exposure to international influences would help build a more prosperous, open society and eventually help undermine the generals’ grip on power.

Mr Mitchell then travelled to the Thai-Burmese border, where he joined Ben Rogers, Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, on a visit to a camp of 3,000 Internally Displaced People inside Karen State. He heard shocking first-hand accounts of the torture and violence used by the Burmese army and met people who had fled the regime's latest offensive, some walking up to a month to escape their villages. One woman told Mr Mitchell that her son had been beheaded; another said her husband had been hung upside down from a tree, his eyes gouged out, and then drowned; a third woman said her husband had been killed, after his eyes were plucked out and ears, nose and lips cut off by Burma Army soldiers.