Friday, June 14, 2024
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Hillary rewards Myanmar for ushering political reforms

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Myanmar President Thein Sein (R) shakes hands with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a meeting at the President's Office in Naypyidaw, Myanmar on Thursday. (PTI)

NAYPYITAW, Myanmar: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered Myanmar the first rewards for reform today, saying the United States would back more aid for the reclusive country and consider returning an ambassador after an absence of some two decades.

Clinton said she had “candid, productive” conversations with President Thein Sein and other Myanmar ministers, and told them Washington stood ready to support further reforms, and possibly lift sanctions, as the country seeks to emerge from decades of authoritarian military rule.

But she also urged Myanmar to take further steps to release political prisoners and end ethnic conflicts, and said better US ties would be impossible unless Myanmar halts its illicit dealings with North Korea, which has repeatedly set alarm bells ringing across Asia with its renegade nuclear programme.

“The president told me he hopes to build on these steps, and I assured him that these reforms have our support,” Clinton told a news conference after her talks in Myanmar’s remote capital, Naypyitaw.

“I also made clear that, while the measures already taken may be unprecedented and welcomed, they are just the beginning.”

Clinton’s landmark visit to the country also known as Burma marks a tentative rapprochement after more than 50 years of estrangement from the West.

She will travel today to the commercial capital of Yangon where she will hold the first of two meetings with veteran pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Following meetings with Thein Sein and other officials in Naypyitaw, Clinton unveiled several incremental steps to improve ties and said the United States would consider returning an ambassador to the country.

The United States downgraded its representation in Myanmar to a charge d’affaires in response to the military’s brutal 1988 crackdown on pro-democracy protests and voiding of 1990 elections widely judged to have been won by Suu Kyi’s party.

“This could become an important channel to air concerns, monitor and support progress, and build trust,” Clinton said. “These are beginning steps, and we are prepared to go further if reforms maintain momentum.”

The United States would consider easing sanctions if it saw concrete reforms, she said.

“I told the leadership we will certainly consider the easing and elimination of sanctions as we go forward in this process together … It has to be not theoretical or rhetorical, it has to be very real, on the ground, that can be evaluated.”

Clinton also said the United States would support new World Bank and International Monetary Fund assessment missions to help Myanmar jumpstart its feeble economy and new UN counter-narcotics and health cooperation programs.

Seeking to pull Myanmar more closely into a region increasingly united by its wariness over regional heavyweight China, Clinton invited Myanmar to become an observer to the Lower Mekong Initiative, a US-backed grouping aimed at discussing the future of Southeast Asia’s major waterway.But she dismissed any suggestion that engagement with Myanmar was driven by competition with China.

“We are not about opposing any other country. We’re about supporting this country,” she said, adding that the United States regularly consulted China on its engagement in Asia, including Myanmar. (Reuters)

“We know from history that flickers can die out. They can be stamped out,” Clinton said, adding it was up to Myanmar’s leaders to decide what comes next.

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