The United States Friday joined other governments and human rights groups in condemning the extension of house arrest for Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The State Department urged concerted international pressure on the Burmese military leadership.
The Rangoon government's decision to extend Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest for another year was no surprise here, and the announcement came only a week after President Bush extended - also for a year - the legal basis for U.S. sanctions against Burma.
In a talk with reporters, State Department Deputy spokesman Tom Casey said the action against the Burmese democracy leader was unfortunate and condemnable, and that real progress toward political reform in Burma is long overdue:
"Aung San Suu Kyi should have been released a long time ago, along with all the other political prisoners that the Burmese government holds. And frankly it's long overdue that they allow her and other leaders of the community in Burma to be able to freely exercise their rights to be able to participate in the political system. And it's past time as well that they engage in a serious process of constitutional reform that involves the opposition and all other legitimate actors in that country."
Aung San Suu Kyi has been under detention of one kind or another most of the time since 1990, when her National League for Democracy Party won a general election by a landslide but was barred from taking office by the military junta that had seized power two years earlier.
She has been under continuous house arrest since May of 2003, when she was taken into custody after a pro-government mob attacked her motorcade as she was visiting a rural area outside the capital.
Last week, President Bush signed a one-year extension of the emergency order that underlies the far-reaching U.S. economic sanctions that have been in place against Burma for a decade because of repression and violence against the political opposition.
A White House statement said as the 17th anniversary of the 1990 elections nears, the Burmese junta is only becoming more brutal and indifferent to the concerns of the international community.
It urged all nations, especially Burma's neighbors, to unequivocally condemn what was termed the junta's continued unwillingness to move forward on its own promises to return the country to democratic rule.
U.S. officials have privately faulted Burma's fellow member countries of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, for a lack of vigor in pressing the Burmese government on democratic reform.
The issue is likely to be high on the agenda for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when she is expected to attend a ministerial dialogue with ASEAN leaders in Manila at the end of July, that is to also include UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.
In his comments here, spokesman Casey said he hoped the UN chief's newly reappointed special envoy for Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, will be able to use his good offices to prod the Burmese leadership toward change.
Gambari, a former Nigerian ambassador to the UN, visited Burma twice last year and met with junta members as well as Aung San Suu Kyi and her party colleagues.