Wednesday, 11 April 2012

British PM to visit Burma on Friday


Published: 10 April 2012

British Prime Minister David Cameron is due in Burma this week on the first visit by a top western leader since decades of military rule ended last year, government officials said Monday.

Cameron will meet President Thein Sein in the capital Naypyidaw on Friday and hold talks with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon the same day, a Burmese government official who did not want to be named told AFP.

“His visit will be a day trip,” he said.

A second official confirmed the plan but said the schedule was still being finalised. An aide to Suu Kyi also told AFP that the Nobel Peace Prize laureate was expected to meet Cameron on Friday in Rangoon.

Suu Kyi, who spent 15 of the past 22 years locked up by the former junta, won a seat in parliament for the first time in April’s by-elections that were largely praised by the west as a step towards democracy.

Her National League for Democracy (NLD) party secured 43 of the 44 seats it contested, becoming the main opposition force in a national parliament dominated by the military and its political allies.

She will take her seat in the lower house for the first time on 23 April, her party said on Monday.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague last week hailed the 66-year-old’s election to political office as a “historic result” for the people of Burma, while urging Thein Sein to stay on the reform track.

Burma’s quasi-civilian government has announced a surprising series of reforms over the past year, such as releasing hundreds of political prisoners and welcoming the opposition back into mainstream politics.

Cameron would be the first western head of government to visit since the junta handed power to a nominally civilian regime last year following a controversial 2010 election won by the military’s political proxies.

It comes as the EU considers further easing sanctions against the impoverished nation following the landmark elections.

While some nations have argued for all sanctions to be removed, Britain – the country’s former colonial ruler – and Nordic nations favour a “step-by-step” approach to ensure reforms continue, EU diplomats have said.

The 27-nation bloc already lifted some sanctions on the regime this year and foreign ministers will decide the next steps when they meet on 23 April in Luxembourg.

Hillary Clinton became the first US secretary of state to visit Burma in more than 50 years last November for talks with Thein Sein and Suu Kyi, who was released just days after the 2010 vote.

Her NLD party swept to a landslide election victory in 1990, when Suu Kyi was in detention, but the junta never recognised the result.

Observers say the regime now needs Suu Kyi in parliament to bolster the legitimacy of its political system and spur an easing of western sanctions.

The US announced last week it would ease selected sanctions, including restrictions on investment to Burma, but said measures would stay in place against those opposed to reform.

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Speech of General Aung San