Entries in Myanmar (19)


Obama Praises Myanmar's Democratic Progress on Historic Visit

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images(YANGON, Myanmar) -- Becoming the first sitting U.S. president to visit this long-isolated nation, President Obama on Monday extended “the hand of friendship” to Myanmar as the country emerges from five decades of harsh authoritarian rule.  But he cautioned that the young democracy has “much further to go.”

“Instead of being repressed, the right of people to assemble together must now be fully respected,” the president told a subdued crowd at the University of Yangon.  “Instead of being stifled, the veil of media censorship must continue to be lifted.  As you take these steps, you can draw on your progress.”

Showcasing one of the foreign policy accomplishments of his first term, he praised the “dramatic transition” that Myanmar has made as he attempts to lock-in the nation’s reforms and encourage additional progress.

Obama made history when Air Force One touched down at 9:35 a.m. local time.  The president, joined by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was greeted by tens of thousands of people lining the streets of Yangon, including roughly 2,000 school children who stood shoulder-to-shoulder waving U.S. and Myanmar flags.

Obama’s first stop was at the government headquarters, where he met with reformist President Thein Sein.

“I’ve shared with him the fact that I recognize this is just the first step on what will be a long journey,” Obama told reporters, with Sein at his side.  “But we think a process of democratic and economic reform here in Myanmar that has been begun by the president is one that can lead to incredible development opportunities.”

While the U.S. uses the term “Burma,” the former name of the country, Obama referred to it as “Myanmar” -- the preferred terminology of the former military government -- when meeting with Sein.

“I shared with President Thein Sein our belief that the process of reform that he has taken is one that will move this… country forward,” Obama said.

Obama then made a personal visit to the home of opposition leader, and fellow Nobel laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, where she lived under house arrest before being released two years ago.

“One of my first stops is to visit with an icon of democracy who has inspired so many people, not just in this country but all around the world,” the president told reporters after their visit.  “Here through so many difficult years is where she displayed such unbreakable courage.  It’s here where she showed that human freedom and dignity cannot be denied.”

Speaking at the university -- the culmination of his visit -- with Suu Kyi and Clinton sitting in the first row, Obama warned that “no process of reform will succeed without national reconciliation” -- one of only two lines in his speech that received applause from the crowd.

“You now have a moment of remarkable opportunity to transform cease-fires into lasting settlements, and to pursue peace where conflict lingers,” he said.

Obama’s visit -- a brief six-hour stop on his whirlwind tour of Southeast Asia -- is seen as a symbolic validation of the country’s changes.  Human rights groups, however, have said the president’s trip is premature because the government continues to hold political prisoners and human rights abuses are ongoing.

In his remarks, the president noted that to protect freedom, those in power must accept constraints.

“That is how you must reach for the future you deserve -- a future where a single prisoner of conscience is one too many, and the law is stronger than any leader,” he said.

This journey to Myanmar is a first, but also a poignant last for Clinton.  In Yangon, she came down the air-stairs alongside Obama for what the White House calls her final trip with him as Secretary of State and her final official ride on Air force One as the architect of his foreign policy.  Clinton has said she will not remain for a second term.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


President Obama to Visit Burma, A Presidential First 

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- No American president has ever visited Burma, which renamed itself Myanmar in a shift toward democracy several years ago. Now, the country is making some reforms, and President Obama is paying a first-ever visit on Monday.

Critics of the president's landmark trip to Myanmar, which the U.S. still calls Burma, complain it is too soon to reward the repressive government there for the modest reforms it's made. But White House National Security Advisor Tom Donilon is adamant about the trip.

"This is a moment where the president really can attempt to lock in the progress that's been made," he said.

President Obama's biggest photo op is to be at the home of fellow Nobel Peace prize winner Aung San Suu Ky whose long years under arrest are over.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Obama Softens Some Sanctions on Burma

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama today announced that his administration is easing restrictions on U.S. companies seeing to “responsibly do business in Burma.”

“Easing sanctions is a strong signal of our support for reform, and will provide immediate incentives for reformers and significant benefits to the people of Burma,” Obama said in a written statement.

The president was following up on his pledge from last November to “forge a new relationship” with Burma when that country’s repressive regime released some political prisoners, eased some restrictions on media and began a dialogue with prominent dissident and Nobel Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi.

The administration, however, specifically excluded “the armed forces and Ministry of Defense-owned entities” and, through an Executive Order, gave the Secretary of the Treasury the ability to expand sanctions “to those who undermine the reform process, engage in human rights abuses, contribute to ethnic conflict, or participate in military trade with North Korea.”

“This Order is a clear message to Burmese government and military officials: those individuals who continue to engage in abusive, corrupt, or destabilizing behavior going forward will not reap the rewards of reform,” Obama said in the statement.

The statement didn’t enumerate the specific restrictions that have been eased but added that “responsible investment will help facilitate broad-based economic development, and help bring Burma out of isolation and in to the international community.  My Administration will continue to support the Government of Burma in its efforts to work toward international standards for economic growth, responsible governance, and human rights.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi Formally Accepts Nobel Peace Prize 21 Years Later

State Department(NEW YORK) -- Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi formally accepted her Nobel Peace Prize today, more than two decades after it was awarded to honor her fight for democracy.

"We have been waiting for you for a very long time," Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjorn Jagland told Suu Kyi. "In your isolation, you have become a moral leader for the whole world."

Suu Kyi won the award in 1991 but for more than 20 years was either forbidden from leaving her country, or too afraid she would never be allowed to return. Saturday, as a free woman and member of parliament in a newly open Burma (now called Myanmar), she finally gave her acceptance speech.

"When the Nobel Committee chose to honor me, the road I had chosen...became a less lonely path to follow," Suu Kyi said. "The Nobel Peace Prize opened up a door in my heart."

It was a remarkable moment.

A woman who had lived a difficult and lonely life as a prisoner of conscience was met by trumpet fanfare and an adoring crowd of dignitaries in Oslo's Town Hall, who gave her a pair of long standing ovations.

A Burmese musician played her favorite piece, the same one played here 22 years ago, when an empty chair marked Suu Kyi's absence.

Saturday, she spoke of her years under house arrest, when "it felt as though I were no longer part of the real world." What the Nobel award had done, she said, was send an unmistakable message, to her supporters and to the Burmese regime. "The Nobel Prize had drawn the attention of the world," she said. "We were not going to be forgotten."

She knows that challenges remain--for her country, and for human rights the world over. "I am standing here because I was once a prisoner of conscience," she said. "Please remember the often repeated truth that one prisoner of conscience is too many." Like Mandela, for all her struggles, she has no appetite for revenge. "What I want most," she said on her arrival in Europe Thursday, "is reconciliation and not retribution."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Democracy Leader Aung San Suu Kyi Leaves Myanmar

PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images(BANGKOK) -- Myanmar’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has left her country for the first time in more than two decades.

The opposition leader and former political prisoner addressed the World Economic Forum on Friday. She was met with a standing ovation and adoration by crowds of supporters in the streets, many of whom are migrant workers from her own country who fled to Thailand to find work.

And jobs are what Suu Kyi says her country needs the most.

After the military government held free elections in 2010, and Suu Kyi won her own seat in parliament in April, the U.S. and E.U. eased sanctions.  Suu Kyi is urging what she called “healthy skepticism,” saying corruption and inequality must be addressed before foreign investment can be most effective.

Suu Kyi plans more travel. She will go to Europe this summer to finally accept, in person, the Nobel Prize she won in 1991.  

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Obama Nominates New Ambassador to Burma

Soe Than WIN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Declaring a “new chapter in the relationship between the United States and Burma,” President Obama announced Thursday he is rewarding democratic progress by nominating the first U.S. ambassador to Burma in 22 years.

The U.S. will also ease its ban on new investment in Burma, Obama announced.

After her meeting with the foreign minister of Burma, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters that while the U.S. is suspending sanctions, it is not lifting them altogether. “We will be keeping relevant laws on the books as an insurance policy, but our goal and our commitment is to move as rapidly as we can to expand business and investment opportunities.”

Clinton stressed that the emphasis will be in responsible investment, and that U.S. companies will be held to “best practice” standards implementing transparency and worker’s rights. However, in a follow-up conference call senior administration officials admitted that the standards are still being hashed out and they will not be legally enforceable by U.S. law.

Human rights groups have complained that it’s still too early to ease sanctions on Burma, and that the U.S. should have worked out standards of conduct before opening up Burma for American business.

Here is the president's full statement:

Today marks the beginning of a new chapter in the relationship between the United States and Burma. Since I announced a new U.S. opening to Burma in November, President Thein Sein, Aung San Suu Kyi and the people of Burma have made significant progress along the path to democracy.  The United States has pledged to respond to positive developments in Burma and to clearly demonstrate America's commitment to the future of an extraordinary country, a courageous people, and universal values. That is what we are doing.

Today, I am nominating our first U.S. Ambassador to Burma in 22 years, Derek Mitchell, whose work has been instrumental in bringing about this new phase in our bilateral relationship. We also are announcing that the United States will ease its bans on the exportation of financial services and new investment in Burma.  Opening up greater economic engagement between our two countries is critical to supporting reformers in government and civil society, facilitating broad-based economic development, and bringing Burma out of isolation and into the international community.

Of course, there is far more to be done. The United States remains concerned about Burma’s closed political system, its treatment of minorities and detention of political prisoners, and its relationship with North Korea. We will work to establish a framework for responsible investment from the United States that encourages transparency and oversight, and helps ensure that those who abuse human rights, engage in corruption, interfere with the peace process, or obstruct the reform process do not benefit from increased engagement with the United States.  We will also continue to press for those who commit serious violations of human rights to be held accountable. We are also maintaining our current authorities to help ensure further reform and to retain the ability to reinstate selected sanctions if there is backsliding.

Americans for decades have stood with the Burmese people in their struggle to realize the full promise of their extraordinary country. In recent months, we have been inspired by the economic and political reforms that have taken place, Secretary Clinton’s historic trip to Naypyidaw and Rangoon, the parliamentary elections, and the sight of Aung San Suu Kyi being sworn into office after years of struggle. As an iron fist has unclenched in Burma, we have extended our hand, and are entering a new phase in our engagement on behalf of a more democratic and prosperous future for the Burmese people.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Hillary Clinton Mixes Hollywood, Politics at Screening of "The Lady"

Astrid Riecken/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she was “thrilled” to introduce the screening of The Lady, a Hollywood movie based on the life of Burma democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi.

Clinton thanked the film’s star Michelle Yeoh and director Luc Besson on Monday for managing to get her a copy of the movie to watch ahead of her historic trip to Myanmar last December, where she met Suu Kyi.  Clinton’s trip to the Asian country was the first for a U.S. Secretary of State in 56 years.

“This is a terrific movie,” said Clinton.  ”This film portrays a woman whose story needs to be in theaters and living rooms across the world.”

Yeoh, best known for her performance in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, was on a panel along with the film’s director and U.S. Special Representative for Burma, Derek Mitchell.  The award-winning actress called the secretary’s endorsement of the film her “proudest moment.”  Yeoh spent nearly a year preparing to play the human rights icon, including learning Burmese.

The screening, hosted by the Motion Picture Association of America, was not just a film premiere -- it provided an opportunity to reflect on the current state of politics in Myanmar.  Mitchell, who is expected to be named as the new ambassador to the formally rogue nation,  noted that while the movie focuses on Suu Kyi’s decades of detention fighting for democracy, the Nobel Peace Laureate will soon take her place as an elected official in Myanmar’s Parliament.

Both Mitchell and Clinton acknowledged that the country continues to have human rights issues that will need to be addressed before Myanmar will truly be a democracy, but they praised the progress that’s already been made.

Clinton joked that she told Suu Kyi that “she’s moving from an icon to an elected official.  Having made sort of the same journey to some extent I know that that’s not easy.  Now you go to parliament and you start compromising.  That is what democracy is all about.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Aung San Suu Kyi Wins Seat in Burma Elections

US State Dept photo by William Ng(WASHINGTON) -- Once under house arrest for 20 years in Myanmar, pro democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi appears ready to take a seat in parliament.

Supporters of Suu Kyi were claiming victory Sunday after historic elections in Myanmar, which the U.S. still calls Burma.

It was a far cry from the last time voters went to the polls. The 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner was still confined and her National League for Democracy had boycotted the elections.

What helped prompt this turn of events was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visits to Myanmar last December. It was the first time a U.S. secretary of state had stepped foot in the country in more than half-a-century.

The military has ruled Myanmar with an iron fist for decades but human rights have slowly gotten better since a civilian government with strong ties to the army assumed power in 2010.

Should foreign monitors determine that the election was legitimate and representative of the people's will, international sanctions against Myanmar could be lifted or eased.

Clinton announced last January that full diplomatic ties were being reestablished and the two nations would exchange ambassadors.

The White House issued a statement on the elections:

"We congratulate the people of Burma on their participation in the electoral process, and Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy on their strong showing in the polls.  This election is an important step in Burma’s democratic transformation, and we hope it is an indication that the Government of Burma intends to continue along the path of greater openness, transparency, and reform."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


United States Ready to Exchange Ambassadors with Myanmar

Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- As a result of the steps Myanmar’s leaders have taken in recent days, releasing political prisoners and striking peace deals with rebel groups, the Obama administration is prepared to begin the process of swapping ambassadors with the once-reclusive country, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced Friday.

“In consultation with members of Congress and at the direction of President Obama, we will start the process of exchanging ambassadors with Burma. We will identify a candidate to serve as U.S. ambassador to represent the United States government and our broader efforts to strengthen and deepen our ties with both the people and the government,” Clinton said Friday morning.

The secretary of state said this would not happen right away. “This is a lengthy process and it will, of course, depend on continuing progress and reform. But American -- an American ambassador will help strengthen our efforts to support the historic and promising steps that are now unfolding,” she said.

Clinton also said that she’s directed her staff to identify “further steps that the United States can take in conjunction with our friends and allies to support the reforms under way.”

On Friday, Myanmar freed more than 600 political prisoners, some of whom had been held for two decades.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Secretary of State Clinton Holding High-Level Talks in Myanmar

FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images(NAYPYITAW, Myanmar) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continued her historic visit to Myanmar Thursday by meeting with the country's leaders in an effort to improve relations between the U.S. and the nation Washington still refers to as Burma.

Clinton arrived in Myanmar Wednesday, the first time in more than 50 years an American secretary of state has stepped foot there.

The military has ruled Myanmar with an iron fist for decades but human rights have slowly gotten better since a civilian government with strong ties to the army assumed power last year.

In addition to holding talks with President Thein Sein, Clinton is also meeting with democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who was under house detention for nearly 20 years. Widely respected in the U.S. and the rest of the free world, Suu Kyi has plans to run in upcoming elections as long as the National League for Democracy slate can be re-registered as a political party.

Clinton has to tread lightly while in Myanmar so as not to alienate her hosts as she pushes for reforms.  One possible plan is naming an ambassador to the country. Up to now, the U.S. has only been represented by a low-ranking diplomat.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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