updated 7/11/2005 4:02:14 AM ET 2005-07-11T08:02:14

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Thailand on Monday to press the junta in neighboring Myanmar to release political prisoners — including Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi — and move toward greater openness and democracy.

Rice commented after a working brunch hosted by Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and talks with Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon at the start of a one-day visit to review the country’s efforts to rebuild coastal areas battered by the Dec. 26 tsunami.

She arrived on the resort island of Phuket late Sunday after talks in Beijing with Chinese leaders as part of a four-nation swing through Asia focused primarily on how to get North Korea to give up nuclear weapons development.

“I have asked that our Thai friends who have relations with Burma and dialogue with Burma to continue to press the case of those who are held, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and to press the Burmese toward a more open society,” she told reporters. Myanmar was formerly known as Burma.

Taking a hard-line on Myanmar
Thaksin’s government has been criticized for taking a conciliatory approach toward Myanmar, which has been ruled by the military for more than four decades and has been subject to U.S. and European sanctions over its poor human rights record and failure to introduce democracy.

Myanmar’s military rulers are believed to be holding an estimated 1,300 political prisoners. The country’s pro-democracy icon, Suu Kyi, has been under detention most recently since May 2003, when her convoy was attacked by a pro-government mob in the country’s north.

Rice said the United States was “encouraging all of our partners, not just Thailand, but all of our partners who have contacts with Burma to press the case for human rights, to press the case for greater openness, to press the case for human rights activists like Aung San Suu Kyi.”

She said Suu Kyi was “someone who represents the possibility of reconciliation” for Myanmar.

Myanmar’s junta has pledged to restore democracy, but has made little visible progress. Opposition figures have refused to attend a constitution-drafting meeting convened by the military government as part of a so-called road map to democracy, dismissing it as a sham.

Surveying tsunami recovery
Rice, who flew to this resort island after holding talks in Beijing with Chinese leaders, went from the brunch to a helicopter trip to Phang Nga, the province most affected by the tsunami. She was to inspect the construction of a school to replace one destroyed in the disaster.

Afterward, Rice was flying to Japan, the third leg of her four-country tour. She will travel to South Korea on Tuesday.

Rice is the third prominent U.S. official to visit Thailand this year. In June, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld discussed relief efforts with the country’s prime minister and defense chief. Secretary of State Colin Powell, joined by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the president’s brother, surveyed the devastation in January.

A 9.1 magnitude earthquake on Dec. 26 triggered a tsunami that killed more than 176,000 people in 11 countries across the Indian Ocean. Nearly 50,000 others were reported missing and presumed dead.

Government and private aid flowed from the United States to the region after the disaster. The government initially committed $350 million. In May, President Bush signed a bill providing $907 million for tsunami-related expenses and aid.

More than 400 U.S. companies have donated more than $528 million for tsunami relief, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports.

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