Burmese Democracy Party Absent From Parliament Opening

Posted April 23rd, 2012 at 4:40 pm (UTC-5)
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Burma's parliament held its opening session Monday, but newly elected democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and 42 others in her National League for Democracy party refused to take their seats in a dispute over the wording of the oath of office.

An NLD party spokesperson and Aung San Suu Kyi herself have insisted they do not intend to boycott the parliamentary session, and that they believe the objection to the wording can be solved quickly. They said they want the oath changed to say parliamentarians will “respect” rather than “safeguard” the constitution, which was drafted by the former military government.

But the ruling government party, the USDP, has so far refused.

President Thein Sein, visiting Tokyo, told reporters Monday he has no plans to change the wording of the oath, but insisted he will never reverse the ongoing democratization process.

Also Monday, the European Union suspended most sanctions against Burma. The move follows a series of political reforms by the ruling party and a declaration by the United States that it will also ease sanctions.

Suspending sanctions for a year, rather than dropping them altogether, gives the 27-member bloc leverage to pressure the Burmese government to adopt more reforms.

Speaking before a meeting with his European counterparts in Luxembourg Monday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague noted progress on political reforms in Burma by the new, nominally civilian government. But he also voiced concern about ongoing human rights abuses.

“Great progress has been made in Burma, but we remain very concerned about conflict and human rights abuses in some ethnic areas of Burma, particularly in Kachin state.”

Hague said there are still human rights issues in Burma, including political prisoners and the conflict in Kachin, and warned the sanctions can be reimposed if Burma turns in what he called “the wrong direction.”

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she will travel to Burma later this week to deliver the messages from the European Council and also to open the European Union office there.