With a steady downpour outside, first lady Laura Bush sat down inside a small hut near the Thai border with Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, and invited a group of refugees from one of the world's most repressive regimes to tell her what they “would like the people of the world to know” about their situation.
“Our dream is to go home,” said one of the refugees, Mahn Htun Htun. “But there is no peace and democracy in Burma - and it's impossible to go home.”
For the past two years, Bush has made the cause of freedom in Myanmar a focus of her official duties as first lady. On Thursday, she ventured as close to the closed country as she ever has, visiting a muddy, rain-soaked refugee camp and medical clinic just miles from the border with Myanmar, part of a coordinated White House public relations offensive to raise public pressure on the country's ruling junta.
President Bush played a supporting role, lunching at the U.S. ambassador's residence in Bangkok with a group of Burmese dissidents and telling them that the “American people care deeply about the people of Burma, and we pray for the day in which the people will be free.” He also spoke about Myanmar in a radio interview with journalists heard inside that country.
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But the White House effectively made the first lady the leading figure in its public campaign Thursday by releasing a presidential address on Asia more than 12 hours before he delivered it Thursday morning, and plugging his wife's interest in Myanmar in the process.
“Together, we seek an end to tyranny in Burma. The noble cause has many devoted champions, and I happen to be married to one of them,” the president said.
With the major presidential news out of the way, a sizeable contingent of reporters covering the Bushes' trip to Asia accompanied Laura Bush and daughter Barbara on their seven-hour swing to the rugged border region where some 140,000 Burmese refugees, many of them persecuted ethnic minorities, have fled.
After later returning to Bangkok, Laura and Barbara Bush boarded Air Force One and joined the president in flying to Beijing to attend the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games.