Monday 27 March 2017

Clinton pledges to bring Burma in from the cold

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon yesterday
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon yesterday

Dean Nelson and Damien McElroy

HILLARY Clinton has offered Burma an end to international isolation if it presses ahead with democratic reforms and ends brutal offensives against rebel ethnic minorities.

The US secretary of state met President Thein Sein, a general in the country's former military regime, in the ornate setting of the country's freshly built presidential palace and said the US was willing to reward continued reforms.

"The United States is prepared to walk the path of reform with you if you keep moving in the right direction," she said, before travelling to Rangoon for dinner with Aung San Suu Kyi, the National League for Democracy leader she describes as an "inspiration".

Washington would send its first ambassador to the country in more than 20 years and provide substantial development aid. However, it first wanted to see freedom for 1,000 political prisoners and guarantees that "illicit ties with North Korea" had been cut.

She said she had been given "strong assurances" that Burma would respect UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea.

Breakthrough

Diplomats and analysts said the fact that the US had sent its most senior envoy since John Foster Dulles's 1955 visit was in itself a significant breakthrough.

"The end goal for the generals seems to be the lifting of sanctions and normalising relations with the West," said Gareth Price, an Asia expert and international affairs analyst at Chatham House. "It's a game on all sides and the West does have some leverage at the moment."

The US offered Burma its first concrete openings with an invitation to join a US-backed body that co-ordinates relationships between countries that share the Mekong river. It also invoked a successful gambit last used to strengthen ties with Vietnam by agreeing to send teams to find the remains of US soldiers killed in action during World War Two.

Mrs Clinton acknowledged the potential of the president's reform programme, which has eased media restrictions and allowed the Nobel Peace Prize winner to return to public life. But she issued a demand that political prisoners must be freed.

While Mr Thein Sein's reforms were "unprecedented and welcomed", Mrs Clinton stressed that more than 1,000 political prisoners were still in jail.

"Let me say publicly what I said privately earlier today: no person in any country should be detained for exercising universal freedoms of expression, assembly and conscience," she said.

"I told the leadership we will certainly consider the easing and elimination of sanctions as we go forward in this process together. It has to be not theoretical or rhetorical, it has to be very real, on the ground, that can be evaluated." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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