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Burma pledges to Clinton it will release political prisoners

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The speaker of the Burmese Lower House Thura Shwe Mann said on Thursday that he made a pledge to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that all political prisoners across Burma will be released.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, right, and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi have dinner at the U.S. Chief of Mission Residence in Rangoon on Thursday. Photo: AFP“She urged Burma to release political prisoners. In response, I said I pledged that we will do as much as we can in order that all citizens including political prisoners can be involved in building the nation and for the sake of national reconciliation,” Thura Shwe Mann said in the press conference in Naypyitaw after meeting with Clinton.

Earlier, Clinton met with Burmese President Thein Sein in Naypyitaw followed by a private lunch.

Burma’s relationship with the U.S. has evolved rapidly in the past several months to the point where the U.S. is now prepared to reinstate a modest aid program and not oppose moves by the International Monetary Fund and other key bodies to offer assistance to Burma as it attempts to emerge from two decades of isolation.

Burma’s big hope is that the U.S. will lift economic sanctions against the country, which were put in place after the former military regime attacked and killed hundreds of peaceful demonstrators in 1988 and began a systematic imprisonment of pro-democracy activists.

In the press conference, Thura Shwe Mann denied that Burma had tried to get North Korean nuclear technology.

“Some allegations said that some officials including me went there and signed an agreement regarding nuclear aid. That’s not true. All we did in North Korea is observe their defense systems against air attacks and their ammunition plants. We also observed their air force, navy and other affairs.”
The Lower House speaker also said Clinton told him that the U.S. will watch Burma’s efforts to move toward democracy, and pledged to reward it with aid to education, health and social programmes.

Clinton said in a press conference that the US is not ready to lift sanctions against Burma until it sees further concrete progress in reforms, including the release of political prisoners, a resolution to the bloody fighting in ethnic areas, a more open democratic system that guarantees political parties the right to open offices and travel to all areas of the country, and an end to Burma’s “illicit” dealings with North Korea involving missiles and nuclear technology.

She said that she welcomed the Burmese side’s pledge to release political prisoners soon and to abide by U.N. resolutions on missile and nuclear technology.

Thura Shwe Mann said Clinton urged the newly elected government to continue to make changes that improved the lives of the people and offered greater freedom. He said any improvement in relations with the U.S. would not alter Burma’s relationship with neighbouring countries including China and India.

Meanwhile, on Thursday 70 people including Burmese activists and others staged a demonstration at the U.S. consulate in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, urging the Burmese government to bring peace to ethnic areas and to release all political prisoners.
Win Aung, a member of the demonstration, told Mizzima, “We want Clinton to urge the Burmese government to hold an all-inclusive political dialogue, to try to seek cease-fires and release all political prisoners.”
Since early June, there has been widespread fighting between Burmese government troops and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Kachin State in northern Burma.

The Associated Press reported on Thursday said a senior U.S. official said President Thein Sein outlined his government's plans for reform in a 45-minute presentation in which he acknowledged that Burma lacked a recent tradition of democracy and openness. He asked for U.S. help in making the transition from military to full civilian rule, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Clinton replied that she was visiting because the U.S. was "encouraged by the steps” Burma had taken, the AP reported.

"We're not at the point yet where we can consider lifting sanctions that we have in place because of our ongoing concerns about policies that have to be reversed," Clinton was quoted as saying. "But any steps that the government takes will be carefully considered and will be matched."

Nyan Win, a spokesman for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, welcomed the U.S. package of rewards and said, "The incentives will help promote better relations and a better future for the country, and I hope the government will expand its reform process."

Burmese officials hope Clinton's visit, which started on Wednesday, opens a new chapter in U.S.-Burma relations. Burma’s overriding goal is a lifting of Western economic sanctions. The AP said that Clinton's historic journey is a culmination of behind-the-scenes overtures since a newly elected President Barack Obama told the world's despotic regimes in 2009 that the "US will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."

Since then, Burma has released pro-democracy leader Suu Kyi from house arrest, installed an elected government, and opened a dialogue with Suu Kyi, offering Washington just enough of an opening to re-engage.

Three key sticking points block better relations: the remaining political prisoners in Burmese jails, a civil war it has waged against ethnic armed groups, and its illicit dealings with North Korea, which the U.S. believes could involve missile and nuclear technology.

For Burma, better U.S. relations offer a potential flow of badly needed aid and over time even a military relationship with access to U.S. technology and expertise.  Better relations also would allow Burma to play off its dependency on China, its prime benefactor in terms of aid and lucrative energy deals involving oil, gas and hydropower.  Burma benefits from its strategic position between India, China and Southeast Asia.

The AP quoted David Steinberg, the director of Asian Studies at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., saying: "They [Burma] do feel that they are in such a solid position that they can begin to do things that they could not do before."
Last Updated ( Friday, 02 December 2011 13:14 )  

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