The United States has cautioned visiting Myanmar Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who called for further easing of U.S. sanctions, to guard against backsliding by the junta-turned-democratic government in the South East Asian country.
Delivering remarks at a function honoring the democracy icon at U.S. Institute of Peace, Washington, on Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said one of the important reasons for Suu Kyi's visit "at this time is to remind us of how much more still lies ahead - from strengthening the rule of law in democratic institutions to addressing the challenges in many of the ethnic conflicts and in Rakhine State. The government and the Opposition need to continue to work together to unite the country, heal the wounds of the past, and carry the reforms forward. That is also key to guard against backsliding, because there are forces that would take the country in the wrong direction if given the chance."
Clinton said: "We in the State Department and in the Obama Administration are certainly the first to say that the process of reform must continue. Political prisoners remain in detention. Ongoing ethnic and sectarian violence continue to undermine progress toward national reconciliation, stability, and lasting peace. Some military contacts with North Korea persist. And further reforms are required to strengthen the rule of law, increase transparency, and address constitutional challenges."
At the sametime, she made it clear that the United States is committed to standing with the government and the people of Burma (Myanmar) to "support this progress that has begun but is still a work in progress. We've taken steps to exchange Ambassadors, ease economic sanctions, and pave the way for American companies to invest in the country in a way that advances rather than undermines continued reforms. And we are in close contact with government and Opposition leaders. Our first-ever Ambassador to this new Burma, Derek Mitchell, is here with us today. And he, along with the team that Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell lead, are not only in constant communication but ongoing consultation with many representatives of different constituencies in Burma so that we can provide the help and support that is necessary and appropriate."
Clinton acknowledged that "transition can be hard, which exposes you to a whole new sort of criticism and even attack, and requires the kind of pragmatic compromise and coalition building that is the lifeblood of politics but may disappoint the purists who have held faith with you while you were on the outside."
Clinton sounded a balanced approach while speaking about the Myanmar regime, and said she "looks forward to welcoming" President Thein Sein to New York next week for the United Nations General Assembly.
She mentioned about those "flickers of progress" that are growing and strengthening in Myanmar. Hundreds of prisoners of conscience have been released over the past year, including some just this week. Opposition political parties have been legalized and their members have won seats in Parliament. Restrictions on the press, and on freedom of assembly, have eased. "We've seen laws that have been enacted to expand the rights of workers to form labor unions, and to outlaw forced labor. And the government has reached fragile ceasefires in some long-running ethnic conflicts."
"Suu Kyi and other Opposition leaders have now joined with President Thein Sein and the new government to take the courageous steps necessary to drive these reforms," according to Clinton.
Thein Sein had urged Western countries to lift all sanctions imposed on his country. The West's relations with Myanmar marked a drastic improvement since the country's democratically-elected government implemented a set of reforms and displayed a positive approach toward the Opposition.
Speaking after Clinton, Suu Kyi said Myanmar had cleared the "first hurdle (in getting sanctions loosened)," but called on Washington to ease sanctions further as part of a partnership with the U.S so that "our people can start taking responsibility for their own destiny."
The Obama administration in April had relaxed some travel and financial restrictions on the Mynmar regime, with its leaders allowed to visit the U.S. In July, it decided to lift decades-old ban imposed on American investment in that country.
Suu Kyi began on Monday her 18-day tour of the United States, which comes after a gap of two decades.
Suu Kyi will be honored in Washington, and presented with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor bestowed by the U.S. Congress, among other awards.
The Nobel laureate is also scheduled to meet with President Barack Obama and House and Senate leaders during her four-day stay in Washington. Suu Kyi's meeting with Clinton at the State Department was their second within an year.
Suu Kyi, who had been a political prisoner for most of the past 20 years, was released in November 2010. The U.S. visit is another step in her new role as a globe-trotting stateswoman, after an extensive European tour and travel to Thailand this year.
by RTT Staff Writer
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