Burmese Activist Urges Democracy Dialogue Without Pre-Conditions

Posted September 13th, 2011 at 11:10 am (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she will continue pressing the country's new, nominally civilian government for the release of all political prisoners, but that she does not believe a prisoner release should be a condition for further talks.

The Nobel laureate spoke Tuesday in Rangoon to a reporter for VOA's Burmese service, as democracy advocates both inside and outside the country continue efforts to nudge the new government toward democratic reforms. She said talks without preconditions that began last month with the government could help hasten the release of more than two thousand prisoners jailed under the long-ruling military junta that stepped aside earlier this year.

Aung San Suu Kyi also said her country remains in desperate need of foreign aid, particularly in public health and education sectors. But she said wide-ranging Western sanctions currently in place should only be lifted as evidence shows that “real change has taken place and that it is time for a new approach.”

In Washington Monday, U.S. Senator Jim Webb, who chairs a Senate subcommittee on East Asian affairs, said Washington should be prepared to adjust its policies toward Burma, if that government continues to support dialogue with the country's pro-democracy opposition.

Webb said there are “clear indications” of a “new openness” by the Burmese government. He also said U.S. law allows the president to waive a ban on Burmese imports if such a move is determined to be in the U.S. national interest.

In Rangoon Monday, U.S. special envoy Derek Mitchell met privately with Aung San Suu Kyi, for talks described by her National League for Democracy party as an exchange of views that went beyond development and aid needs to examine political reform and national reconciliation issues.

Last month, Burmese President Thein Sein, himself a former general, met with Aung San Suu Kyi for the first time since taking office in May. Both he and the democracy activist later called the talks friendly, and the president later urged political exiles to return home to help build the country.

However, in her television interview with VOA Tuesday, Aung San Suu Kyi said the choice for exiles to return home is a personal decision in each case. She also warned that returning exiles would not find the same kind of political freedoms inside their homeland as they enjoyed elsewhere.