Myanmar Prime Minister meets US senator, promises reforms

Myanmar Prime Minister meets US senator, promises reforms

NEW YORK, Sept 29 — Myanmar’s prime minister met US Senator Jim Webb today after telling the UN General Assembly that the military rulers are pressing ahead with democratic reforms but want an end to sanctions.

Webb, who visited Myanmar in August, held talks with General Thein Sein, prime minister of the country formerly known as Burma, in New York on the sidelines of the General Assembly.

“The meeting was a continuation of a dialogue begun last month,” Webb, the Democratic chairman of the Senate subcommittee on East Asia and the Pacific, said in a statement after the meeting.

“The (U.S) administration’s new policy and the commitment of the Myanmar government to holding elections next year are both signals that we have the potential to change the dynamic of this important relationship.”

The administration of President Barack Obama has decided to pursue dialogue with Myanmar’s military rulers while leaving open the possibility that it could expand US sanctions.

Webb travelled to Myanmar last month and secured the release of an American tourist whose unsolicited visit to opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s house in Yangon was the reason cited by the government to prosecute her and the tourist for violating a new security law.

Thein Sein is the highest ranking Myanmar official to address the General Assembly since the junta’s second-in-command, Maung Aye, spoke at the annual gathering of world leaders in New York in 1995. In his speech, he brushed aside attempts by outsiders to dictate reforms to the junta.

“Democracy cannot be imposed from the outside and a system suitable for Myanmar can only be born out of Myanmar society,” Thein Sein told the 192-nation Assembly. “The transition to democracy is proceeding.”

Myanmar is to hold multiparty elections next year, although the recent sentencing of Suu Kyi to a further 18 months of detention has led the West to question whether the elections will be a sham.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also met Thein Sein at UN headquarters and told him his government needs to hold “credible and inclusive elections” and release Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners, Ban’s press office said.

US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell told reporters in Washington that the United States has agreed to engage diplomatically with Myanmar after the junta expressed an interest in reopening discussions with Washington.

Campbell said the first direct contacts would take place this week on the sidelines of the General Assembly and that he would be part of the US team.

“We recognised that ultimately we need to change our methods but not our goals,” Campbell said, noting that concern about Myanmar’s relationship with North Korea was among the factors behind the decision.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party said in Yangon the Nobel Peace Prize laureate has requested a meeting with US, European Union and Australian diplomats to discuss the sanctions imposed on her country.

The United States approved sanctions against Myanmar in 1988, when an estimated 3,000 people were killed when the army crushed pro-democracy demonstrations. The EU and Australia also have sanctions in place.

Thein Sein told the Assembly the sanctions against Myanmar were “unjust” and “must be stopped.”

Campbell said the United States would look for concrete signs of progress before moving to drop sanctions and he held out the possibility that more targeted sanctions could be imposed if the situation in Myanmar took a turn for the worse.

Western governments and the United Nations have urged the junta to free all political prisoners, including Suu Kyi, who has been detained in some way for 14 of the past 20 years — Reuters, Malaysian Insider

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