Burma President Praises Aung San Suu Kyi, Suggesting Improved Relations

Posted September 28th, 2012 at 5:35 am (UTC-5)
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Burmese President Thein Sein has offered rare praise for the country's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, marking an apparent step forward in her complicated relationship with the former military general.

Speaking at the Asia Society in New York, Thein Sein acknowledged that the democracy leader, who spent years detained under Burma's former military rulers, had played a crucial role in the country's reform process.

“She has been working with us in undertaking several reforms. She has been a good colleague. And I am sure she will try to do what she can in order to make the reform process complete. And I believe she will continue to work with us to accomplish all the things that we need to achieve in the country.”

Speaking earlier at the United Nations General Assembly, the president congratulated the 1991 Nobel laureate on the honors she has received “in recognition for her efforts for democracy.”

It was the first time that Aung San Suu Kyi has been praised by the reformist president, who served as a former general in the military that imposed a harsh authoritarian rule over Burma for five decades.

Burma analyst Suzanne DiMaggio, who moderated the discussion with Thein Sein, told VOA it was a landmark moment for the two rival leaders, who have sometimes disagreed on how to proceed with reforms. But she says they now seems to be be finding common ground.

“When we hosted Aung San Suu Kyi last week in Washington, she had a very conciliatory tone toward the president and made it clear that they both are working toward the same goal. And he responded in kind. I think it's clear that their relationship is involving and improving and I think they recognize that their country needs both of them in order to achieve the many things that they need to do.”

Aung San Suu Kyi is currently on a high-profile, multi-week tour of the United States, a trip that some fear could overshadow President Thein Sein's visit to the United Nations.

Since taking power last year, Thein Sein's government has begun releasing political prisoners, relaxing censorship and opening dialogue with the democratic opposition and armed ethnic minority groups. But some of his military colleagues have been hesitant to change.

On Thursday, Thein Sein insisted his country is on a path to democracy. But he said there are conditions that need to be met in order to solidify the reforms already made.

“First, there has to be stability and rule of law in the country. We'll have to lay down a good foundation for the economy. If we manage to do that, we will be able to establish a stable political system, a stable democracy, and I don't think there will be any reversal in the political transition.”

But DiMaggio said the most important development this week is that both President Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi appear to now have, to a large extent, the same goals for Burma.

“There may be some differences on how to get there and what priorities should be. But nonetheless, I think they're really in sync with each other on how to move forward and what needs to be done. So in that sense, it gives me a great deal of optimism, because if the two of them have a common agenda, it really is encouraging that a lot can be accomplished. ”

And many observers agree that there is still much that needs to be accomplished in Burma, including the formation of a independent judiciary and amending a constitution that effectively guarantees military control.