Asia

Hillary Clinton Burma visit: Suu Kyi hopeful on reforms

  • 2 December 2011
  • From the section Asia

Aung San Suu Kyi has said she is hopeful that Burma can get on to "the road to democracy", after talks with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

She welcomed reforms that have enabled her party to stand in elections, but said more needed to be done and called for political prisoners to be freed.

The democracy leader held a morning of talks with Mrs Clinton, the most senior US official to visit Burma in 50 years.

They promised to work together to promote democracy in Burma.

"I am very confident that if we work together... there will be no turning back from the road to democracy," said Ms Suu Kyi after the talks.

But she added that the country was "not on that road yet".

'Emotional and gratifying'

Mrs Clinton told the BBC she had followed Aung San Suu Kyi over the years and it had been an honour to meet the pro-democracy leader.

"It was like seeing a friend you hadn't seen for a very long time even though it was our first meeting," she said.

"It was incredibly emotional and gratifying to see her free from the many years of house arrest."

She said Ms Suu Kyi was wise to take advantage of the signs of change in Burma but that continuing actions were needed from the Burmese authorities.

"There has to be a momentum behind reform and we're waiting and watching for that," said Mrs Clinton.

The Burmese government continues to hold hundreds of political prisoners and the country is still plagued by ethnic conflicts.

The US maintains tight sanctions on senior leaders in Burma, which was ruled by a brutal military junta from 1962 until 2010.

The army handed power to a civilian government last year, but the military's primacy is entrenched in the country's constitution.

However, the government has implemented a series of reforms.

It freed Ms Suu Kyi from detention and allowed to her take up a role in public life.

The reforms led to speculation that decades of isolation could be about to end.

Mrs Clinton and Ms Suu Kyi had a private dinner in Rangoon on Thursday.

They met again on Friday at Ms Suu Kyi's Rangoon home, where the Nobel Peace Prize winner was held under house arrest for many years.

'New chapter'

Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy recently re-registered as a political party, and she is expected to stand for parliament in forthcoming by-elections.

The NLD won a landslide election victory in 1990, but the junta refused to recognise the result and the party was never allowed to take power.

Ms Suu Kyi spent much of the next 20 years in detention.

On Thursday, Mrs Clinton met President Thein Sein, a former general and top leader of the previous regime.

The pair discussed upgrading diplomatic ties, and the US said it would support some modest changes in Burma's relationship with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

But the US stopped short of easing sanctions on Burma, linking their removal to further progress on reform.

Thein Sein hailed a "new chapter" in relations with the US.

Mrs Clinton is the first secretary of state to visit Burma since John Foster Dulles in 1955.

After her talks with Ms Suu Kyi, she met members of Burma's ethnic communities and leaders of the country's developing civil society groups. She will fly out of Burma later in the day.

The visit comes weeks after President Obama toured Asia and made a series of announcements bolstering American commitments in the region.