Suu Kyi positive on democracy ahead of Britain talks

5th January 2012, Comments 0 comments

Aung San Suu Kyi said Thursday she expected to live to see full democratic elections in Myanmar, ahead of historic talks with Britain's foreign secretary who called for more steps towards reform.

Hague, the first British foreign minister to visit the military-dominated nation in more than half a century, also issued a call for the release of all political prisoners before holding talks with President Thein Sein.

He was due later Thursday to meet with Suu Kyi, the Nobel peace laureate who has grown cautiously positive about the country's future since the installation of a nominally civilian regime after November 2010 elections.

"I think there will be full democratic elections within my lifetime, but then of course I do not know how long I'm going to live," Suu Kyi said in an interview with the BBC.

Shortly afterwards, her National League for Democracy (NLD) announced the party had been officially registered, passing the final hurdle to enable it to run in by-elections scheduled for April.

Suu Kyi, who has spent most of the last two decades in custody, was freed from seven straight years of house arrest days after the November polls which were discredited at the time but have been followed by surprising reforms.

The 66-year-old opposition leader, who could enter parliament for the first time if she goes ahead with plans to contest the February by-elections, was noncommittal on the prospects of eventually running for president.

"I'm not even sure that this is something that I would like to do," she said ahead of her meeting with Hague in the commercial hub of Yangon where she lives.

Hague's trip, the first by a European Union foreign minister since the power handover from the military junta which ruled for decades, is the latest round of international diplomacy aimed at encouraging the budding reforms.

As he embarked on the mission which began in the capital Naypyidaw, Hague said he would try to encourage the Myanmar government to "continue on its path of reform, and to gauge what more Britain can do to support this process."

"Further steps are needed that will have a lasting impact on human rights and political freedom," he said in a statement released by the Foreign Office in London.

"In particular, we hope to see the release of all remaining political prisoners, free and fair by-elections, humanitarian access to people in conflict areas, and credible steps towards national reconciliation."

He told reporters that Myanmar's Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin had "reaffirmed commitments that have been made to release political prisoners", according to the BBC.

The minister "said the changes are irreversible and I welcome that way of thinking... I stressed that the world will judge the government by its actions," he said.

Since taking office last year Thein Sein -- himself a former junta general -- has held dialogue with Suu Kyi, suspended an unpopular Chinese-backed mega dam and shown a desire to reach out to the international community.

Some political prisoners have also been released but the government this week caused disappointment when it announced reduced jail terms for inmates but failed to issue a much-anticipated amnesty for detained dissidents.

Myanmar's parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann said Hague had been asked to give "constructive criticism" to the country's new leaders.

"We heard that the UN and other organisations were frustrated by the amnesty. I am sorry for this," he said in a statement, referring to the prisoner release.

Shwe Mann, number-three in the former junta and still considered one of the nation's most powerful men, said the parliament would work towards "inclusiveness" but did not explicitly mention political detainees.

Activists estimate there are still between 500 and more than 1,500 prisoners of conscience in Myanmar's jails and many key dissidents are serving decades behind bars.

Myanmar's flurry of high-level missions began when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the country, formerly known as Burma, from November 30 to December 2.

British International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell travelled to the country in November and Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba visited in December.

© 2012 AFP

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