UN chief meets Myanmar reformist president

Decrease Font Size Increase Font Size Text Size Print This Page

AFP News

UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Monday urged Western nations to drop more Myanmar sanctions, in a show of support for the reformist regime as Aung San Suu Kyi agreed to end a parliamentary dispute.
Ban welcomed moves by the international community to reward sweeping changes in the country since the end of direct army rule last year, in a landmark speech to parliament following talks with President Thein Sein.
“Today, I urge the international community to go even further in lifting, suspending, or easing trade restrictions and other sanctions,” he said in the first speech by a foreign dignitary in the fledgling legislature.
Ban’s is the latest in a string of high-level international visits to Myanmar amid a thaw in the army-dominated nation’s relations with the West, which has begun rolling back sanctions in response to reforms.
His address was not witnessed by Suu Kyi and other newly-elected members of her party, after they last week delayed their debut in the legislature in a row over the swearing-in oath.
But in a dramatic climbdown, the Nobel laureate told reporters at her National League for Democracy (NLD) party headquarters in Yangon on Monday that she would pledge to “safeguard” the army-created constitution.
“We have decided to comply at this juncture, because we do not want a political problem or tension,” she said, ending an impasse seen as the first sign of friction with the government since she won a parliamentary seat in historic April 1 by-elections.
Ban, who is in Myanmar for the first time under the new quasi-civilian government, hailed Thein Sein “for his vision, leadership and courage” in his speech to MPs.
“The dramatic changes sweeping Myanmar have inspired the world. And we know that your ambitions for the future reach higher still,” he said from the podium of the palatial parliament building.
He said that he believed the long-isolated country would “quickly regain its place as a respected and responsible member of the international community”.
Ban spoke to lawmakers from both chambers, including unelected military officials who hold one quarter of the seats in the legislature, dominated by the army’s political allies.
“President Thein Sein and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi have demonstrated the confidence and statesmanship needed to look beyond politics to the larger interests of the nation,” he said.
Ban is due to meet Suu Kyi for the first time during his three-day trip.
It is a far cry from his previous visit in 2009 when the junta dismayed Ban by refusing to allow him to see the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who was under house arrest at the time.
Suu Kyi is now expected to take the oath on Wednesday, according to NLD sources.
“The reason we accept it, firstly is the desire of the people. Our voters voted for us because they want to see us in parliament,” she said.
Suu Kyi has shown increased confidence in the reformist government of President Thein Sein in recent weeks, calling for the suspension of EU sanctions and planning her first international trip in 24 years.
Last week, European Union nations put a halt to most sanctions against the impoverished nation for one year to reward a series of dramatic reforms since direct army rule ended last year.
But the United States has ruled out an immediate end to its main sanctions on Myanmar.