U.S. Congressman-elect Dana Rohrabacher returned Friday from a controversial tour of Burma and Afghanistan and said he hopes that the trip “will serve me well in Congress.”
Rohrabacher, a Republican elected earlier this month to represent Long Beach and west Orange County, has said he wants to be appointed to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He said he will meet with officials from the National Security Council and State Department next week to brief them on the two-week trip.
Rohrabacher made the trip as a private citizen, keeping his itinerary secret and entering Burma illegally. The secrecy stemmed from concern for his safety, his aides said.
He returned to the United States on Friday afternoon and spoke at a Los Angeles International Airport press conference.
Rohrabacher said he will urge congressional leaders to support humanitarian aid for anti-government rebels in both Burma and Afghanistan. His statements were cheered by supporters, including more than 100 Burmese-Americans who waved placards proclaiming him “a champion of human rights.”
Rohrabacher said that despite claims by the Soviet Union that it is withdrawing all of its troops from Afghanistan, fighting between government and rebel forces has intensified.
“The United States suffers under a misconception of what is happening in Afghanistan,” he said. “Today, the war is far from over, while at the same time, there is a weakening of commitment on our part. The U.S. should support the freedom fighters until the last Soviet troop is gone.”
Rohrabacher said he spent five days in Afghanistan and described the trip as the “most grueling thing I have ever done in my life.”
He said he hiked with rebel forces into the hills around Kabul, camped in ravines and witnessed artillery fire “whizzing back and forth.”
The Rohrabacher trip first attracted attention Tuesday when he slipped illegally from Thailand into Burma to meet with and encourage about 800 students who have been battling government troops.
The congressman-elect said he feared no ramifications from his act and said the Thai government had issued no formal protests, though his exit may have broken Thai law.
State Department officials had said that while Rohrabacher had failed to consult them about the trip, he apparently broke no U.S. laws.
U Hla Shwe, secretary of the Federation for Human Rights and Democracy in Burma, was among Rohrabacher’s supporters at the airport. He praised Rohrabacher as a hero.
“We are more than pleased to learn that he personally found out how much the people of Burma need his assistance to free themselves from the yokes of tyrants,” he said. “The people of Burma need democracy just like the people of the United States.”
Western diplomats estimate that more than 1,000 people have been killed since the Burmese military seized power in September and began to suppress pro-democracy demonstrations. Rohrabacher said the Burma portion of his trip was financed by the La Jolla-based Freedom Research Foundation. Its director, Jack Wheeler, accompanied Rohrabacher on the entire trip.
The Afghanistan leg of the trip was sponsored by the Long Beach-based Christian Anti-Communist Crusade, Rohrabacher said.