Thein Sein: Burma Experiencing “Amazing” Changes

Posted September 27th, 2012 at 1:00 pm (UTC-5)
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Burmese President Thein Sein says Burma has experienced “amazing” changes as its military-backed government strives to achieve democratic reforms.

In his address to the U.N. General Assembly, Thein Sein said political prisoners are being granted amnesty, censorship in the media is being abolished, and people are participating more in the political process.

He said Burma is leaving behind decades of authoritarian rule and implementing a parliamentary system of “checks and balances.”

“After taking office about 18 months ago, the parliament, the judiciary, the armed forces, the national races, political parties, civil societies and the people at large have been taking tangible steps in the democratic transition and reform process. Leaving behind a system of authoritarian government wherein the administrative, legislative and judicial powers were centralized, we have now been able to put in place a democratic government and a strong viable parliament following a practice of checks and balances.”

Thein Sein also congratulated Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi for the honors she has received in the United States in recognition of her efforts to achieve democratic change.

“The former main opposition leader Noble laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is now participating in parliament not only in her capacity as a member of parliament, but also Chairperson of the Rule of Law and Stability Committee of parliament. This week, she is also in New York. As a Myanmar citizen, I would like to congratulate her efforts on behalf of democracy.”

Last week, Aung San Suu Kyi was presented the Congressional Gold Medal, the U.S. Congress's highest honor. She has been on a multi-week tour in the U.S.

Burma has made political and economic reforms in the past two years, and the U.S. recently normalized diplomatic relations with Burma's government.

On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington will lift a ban on imports from Burma in response to the country's continued reforms. The move, to be made with the cooperation of Congress, would represent the removal of the last major U.S. trade sanction against Burma, which is recovering from decades of political and economic isolation.

The United States has also lifted sanctions on U.S. investment in Burma.

President Thein Sein, who has overseen a wave of reforms since taking power last year, said he is “very grateful” and that the Burmese people are “very pleased” with the American moves.

Aung San Suu Kyi has expressed her support for lifting the import ban, saying further easing of sanctions would help the Burmese people. Clinton said Wednesday the move was made in part because of requests from both the government and the opposition.

Bo Hla Tint, Burma analyst and former foreign minister of the Washington-based Burma government-in-exile, told VOA he expects the move will, over time, benefit Burma's poverty-stricken population.

“The United States is one of the biggest markets not only for Burma, but also for other countries in the Asian region. So it will be very helpful.”

Bo Hla Tint says Burma is probably not ready to begin building factories that would produce clothing and other textiles that could be imported to the United States. But he says the move is important because it could persuade Burma's leaders to continue making democratic reforms.

Since taking power in March of last year, the government of Thein Sein, a former general, has begun releasing political prisoners, relaxing censorship and opening dialogue with the democratic opposition and armed ethnic minority groups.

But Washington has continued to push Burma to take further steps, including releasing all remaining political prisoners, making peace deals with ethnic groups and ending suspected ties with North Korea's military.

Jennifer Quigley of the Washington-based U.S. Campaign for Burma told VOA that she is disappointed at the lifting of the import ban, but she acknowledges that it will have some positive impact.

“There will be some jobs available to some of those in the urban areas that were previously not there. But our bigger concern is that the very last piece of leverage against the Burmese military is now gone. And sanctions were imposed for human rights and political reasons, so it does not really leave any opportunity to apply any pressure going forward for the big problems that remain in the country.”

Some observers have speculated that Washington is partly motivated to renew relations with Burma as part of its strategic pivot towards Asia, which is seen by many as an attempt to counter the rising influence of China.