Clinton, Suu Kyi vow democracy for BurmaAgence France-Presse, Associated Press
RANGOON, Burma—US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, two of the world’s most prominent female leaders, pledged Friday to work together to bring democracy to Suu Kyi’s long isolated and repressive nation.
Wrapping up a historic three-day visit to the country officially called Myanmar, Clinton held hands with Suu Kyi on the porch of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate’s lakeside home where she spent much of the past two decades under house arrest and thanked her for her “steadfast and very clear leadership.”
The meeting was the second in as many days for the pair, who appeared to have bonded almost as sisters after a private, one-on-one dinner in Rangoon on Thursday.
“You have been an inspiration but I know that you feel you are standing for all the people of your country who deserve the same rights and freedoms as people everywhere,” Clinton told Suu Kyi. “The people have been courageous and strong in the face of great difficulty over too many years. We want to see this country take its rightful place in the world.”
In scenes unthinkable before Burma’s recent reforms, Suu Kyi took Clinton by the arm and escorted her through the garden of her crumbling villa in the commercial hub Rangoon.
Suu Kyi, freed from house arrest a year ago, said she believed her nation had reached a “historic moment.”
“I am very confident that if we work together … there will be no turning back from the road to democracy,” Suu Kyi said next to a beaming Clinton on a back porch surrounded by potted plants.
More needed to be done by the new military-backed government, “but we hope to get there as soon as possible,” Suu Kyi added.
Clinton, the first US secretary of state to visit Burma in more than 50 years, nodded in agreement and said she saw “openings” during her trip that “give us some grounds for encouragement.”
Letter from Obama
The wife of former President Bill Clinton has spent decades hobnobbing with the world’s most powerful but was visibly excited to meet Suu Kyi, repeatedly embracing the democracy champion and kissing her on the cheeks.
Clinton and Suu Kyi also met away from aides for an expansive dinner Thursday night at the US diplomatic mission whose chef prepared foods especially chosen to please Suu Kyi.
Clinton’s aides said she even brought from the United States a chewy toy for Suu Kyi’s petite but energetic dog. Suu Kyi nonetheless gave Clinton a friendly warning that her dog was sometimes aggressive toward strangers.
Clinton on Thursday hand-delivered a personal letter from US President Barack Obama which thanked Suu Kyi for her “inspiration” to people around the world and said the United States would stand by her “now and always.”
Despite the warm atmosphere at their meetings, Clinton and Suu Kyi both warned of serious worries in Burma. Activists say anywhere from hundreds to more than 1,500 political prisoners remain jailed and that rape and forced labor remain common in ethnic enclaves torn by decades of war.
“All hostilities must cease within this country as soon as possible,” Suu Kyi said.
“Whatever we do in the predominantly Burmese areas we hope will be matched by similar programs and projects in the ethnic nationality areas. Because we are a union of many peoples and in a union of many peoples there must be equality.”
Suu Kyi repeatedly urged the rule of law, demanding that all political prisoners be released and “that no more are arrested in the future for their beliefs.”
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy swept 1990 elections but the military junta never allowed her to take power. Her blessing is seen as critical to any future US move to ease sweeping sanctions.
Suu Kyi tentatively embraced reforms enacted by Burma’s new civilian government. She thanked Clinton and Obama for their “careful and calibrated” engagement that has seen the US take some modest steps to improve ties.
“We are happy with the way in which the United States is engaging with us,” she said. “Because of this engagement, I think our way ahead will be clearer and we will be able to trust that the process of democratization will go forward.”
As she did on Thursday, Clinton said more significant incentives would be offered but only if the government released all political prisoners, ended brutal campaigns against ethnic minorities, respected the rule of law and improved human rights conditions.
Suu Kyi, who now plans to run in upcoming parliamentary elections, endorsed that approach and called for the immediate release of all political prisoners and ceasefires to end the ethnic conflicts.
A heroine for prodemocracy, Suu Kyi advocates around the world, said Clinton’s visit represented “a historical moment for both our countries.”
With US assistance and pressure on the government, which is still backed by the military, she said she believed change was on the horizon for Burma.
Clinton’s meetings with Suu Kyi were the highlight of her visit to the long-isolated country and forcefully underscored a US challenge to its leaders: The new civilian government must expand recent reforms, including the release of political prisoners, to improve relations as it emerges from more than a half-century of repressive military rule.
“We believe that any political prisoner anywhere should be released,” Clinton told reporters. “One political prisoner is one too many in our view.”
US officials warned that even the modest incentives Clinton offered to Burma’s new leaders this week would come off the table if the country failed the political-prisoners and other tests of reform.
Clinton offered a small package of rewards for steps President Thein Sein and other leaders have already taken but said the US was not ready to lift tough sanctions.
Clinton announced that Washington would no longer block enhanced cooperation between Burma and the International Monetary Fund that could lead to much-needed loans. She said the US would also support intensified UN health and microfinance programs and resume bilateral counternarcotics efforts.
She also said the US would begin talks on resuming work to find the remains of 600 US servicepeople left unaccounted for in World War II and consider an upgrade to full diplomatic relations, which were broken off after the 1990 election debacle.
The military seized power in 1962 and ruled until March, when the ruling junta nominally handed power to civilians.
Obama announced Clinton’s mission last month as part of a renewed US focus on Asia, which comes amid mounting concern in much of the continent over the growing assertiveness of China.