Monday, June 2, 2008

Gates could withdraw Navy ships after Myanmar 'neglect'

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Sunday he will make a decision within "a matter of days" to withdraw U.S. Navy ships from the coast of Myanmar, because "it's becoming pretty clear the regime is not going to let us help." As a result, he said many more people will die, particularly those in areas that can only be reached by helicopters, such as those sitting idle on the U.S. ships.

Asked if the military junta there is guilty of genocide, Gates said, "I tend to see genocide more as a purposeful elimination of people, this is more akin, in my view, to criminal neglect."

Speaking to reporters at the close of an international security conference here, Gates said the Myanmar representative at the forum did not seem interested in speaking with him.

But he said "it was interesting to watch as minister after minister described their respective unhappiness at their inability to get assistance in to Burma."

It was particularly pointed, he said, because Chinese officials thanked other countries for the help provided after the earthquake in China. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that even when the decision is made to pull the four U.S. Navy ships off the coast, the vessels will move away slowly enough to turn back if there is an unexpected change of heart by the Myanmar government.

Gates' comments came a day after he made his strongest public condemnation of the Myanmar government at the conference, saying that Myanmar's rulers "have kept their hands in their pockets" while other countries sought to help cyclone victims.Following the conference, Gates flew to Thailand on Sunday where large anti-government demonstrations threaten to lead to the country's second military coup in two years.

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