Clinton Offers Rewards for Reforms in Burma

Posted December 1st, 2011 at 7:55 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the United States is ready to support Burma's transition to democracy and will consider re-establishing diplomatic relations if political and economic reforms there take hold.

Secretary Clinton said Thursday during a landmark visit to Burma's capital Naypyidaw that any step Burma's government takes will be carefully considered.

She urged the government to speed up reconciliation efforts by releasing more political prisoners and stop violent campaigns against ethnic minorities. Clinton also urged Burma to end any “illicit” military ties to North Korea and respect international consensus against the spread of nuclear weapons.

She spoke to reporters after a historic meeting with Burmese President Thein Sein who has overseen tentative steps to reform since he took over in March. The former military officer hailed what he called a new chapter in U.S.-Burmese relations.

Later Thursday, the U.S. secretary of state dined with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in her home. The two are scheduled to hold formal talks Friday.

Clinton will also meet with representatives of Burma's ethnic minorities and civil society representatives before departing Burma Friday afternoon.

Clinton is the first U.S. secretary of state to visit Burma in 50 years.

The new Burmese government has released about 200 political prisoners, eased some press restrictions and opened a dialogue with some of its critics, including Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Nobel peace prize laureate was freed from house arrest last year after spending much of the previous 20 years in detention. Her party won a national election in 1990 by a landslide, but was stopped from taking power. She confirmed Wednesday that she will run for parliament in upcoming elections.

The United States and other Western nations imposed sanctions on the former Burmese military government because of its harsh human rights abuses, including military operations against ethnic groups and the jailing of up to 2,000 political prisoners.

Clinton stressed Thursday that the sanctions will not be lifted until Burma makes concrete steps toward democracy.

The Associated Press quoted Burma's state-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar Thursday as saying that a high-level delegation met with a six-man team from the Kachin Independence Organization in China's Yunnan province. Kachin people make up one of Burma's largest ethnic minorities in the north that have had armed clashes with the Burmese army. The report says the two sides agreed to hold more talks toward establishing dialogue and ending violence.