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Latest update : 2009-07-22

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says Washington has "growing concerns" over military cooperation between Burma and North Korea. Clinton arrives for two days of talks in Thailand on Wednesday at Asia's biggest security forum.

AFP - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heads Wednesday for Asia's biggest security forum amid growing concern over possible military cooperation between junta-ruled Myanmar and nuclear-armed North Korea.
Both isolated and under international sanctions, Myanmar and North Korea are set to dominate the two days of discussions within ASEAN and the broader ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).
"We know that there are growing concerns about military cooperation between North Korea and Burma which we take very seriously," Clinton said after talks here with Thai premier Abhisit Vejjajiva, calling Myanmar by its former name.
"It would be destabilising for the region," she said.
After arriving Tuesday in Bangkok from New Delhi, Clinton said President Barack Obama's administration wants to send a strong message of engagement with Southeast Asia after his predecessor George W. Bush showed less interest in it.
Aides said she would vocalize that commitment in an interview with a TV anchor here Wednesday before heading to the island of Phuket for talks with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and other countries.
She meets her counterparts from ASEAN on Wednesday and the broader ARF on Thursday, aides said, and will also take part in smaller meetings on the sidelines with a host of countries.
Senior US officials accompanying Clinton said there were grave concerns about Myanmar and North Korea sharing nuclear weapons technology, as well as fears about small arms sales to Myanmar.
Suspicions about military cooperation between the two pariah states escalated after a US Navy destroyer last month began tracking a suspect North Korean ship that was reportedly heading for Myanmar.
The vessel came under scrutiny under new United Nations sanctions designed to punish Pyongyang over a recent underground nuclear test and a series of rocket launches including a long-range projectile.
Separately, a group of exiled Myanmar activists last month released pictures of what they said was a secret network of tunnels built by North Korean experts inside Myanmar.
US officials said a key thrust of Clinton's debut at the forum would be to crank up pressure on North Korea to return to multilateral nuclear disarmament talks after its recent missile and nuclear weapons tests.
Washington is currently focused on implementing the tough new UN sanctions, but officials said the US and its allies were ready to offer incentives to Pyongyang if it changed course -- something they did not expect any time soon.
In Phuket Clinton will also meet one-on-one with her counterparts from South Korea, China, Japan and Russia -- which along with the United States were North Korea's partners in six years of disarmament negotiations.
North Korea's envoy to the forum met Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya on Tuesday and "expressed concerns that this forum will put pressure on them", Kasit's secretary, Chavanond Intarakomalyasut, said.
Clinton, meanwhile, also expressed concerns about the rights record of Myanmar, which has been slapped with US sanctions for its detention of political prisoners including pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Myanmar recently sparked outrage by putting the Nobel Peace Prize winner on trial over an incident in which an American man swam to her lakeside house.
"We are deeply concerned by the reports of continuing human rights abuses within Burma and particularly by actions that are attributed to the Burmese military concerning the mistreatment and abuse of young girls," Clinton said.
The Secretary of State will also sign a non-aggression pact with ASEAN in a bid to counter the influence of China, while the ARF will talk terrorism after suicide blasts Friday at two hotels in Jakarta killed seven people.

Date created : 2009-07-22