Thein Sein says Burma on 'right track' to democracy

File picture of Burma's President Thein Sein delivering a speech on 20 December, 2011 President Thein Sein said parliament would warmly welcome Aung San Suu Kyi, if she were elected

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Burma's President Thein Sein says the country is on the ''right track'' to democracy and will continue to "move forward".

''We don't have any intention to draw back,'' the former general said.

The Washington Post interview, his first with Western media, was conducted on Tuesday.

He said the West should lift economic sanctions because the government had met many of their demands, including freeing political prisoners.

The military, he said in the interview, was ''no longer involved in the executive body'', but retains a quarter of the seats in parliament.

''We cannot leave the military behind because we require the military's participation in our country's development,'' he said.

President Thein Sein took office in March 2011, after the country's first elections in 20 years in November 2010. Before that Burma was governed by a military junta.

REFORM IN BURMA

  • 7 Nov 2010: First polls in 20 years
  • 13 Nov: Aung San Suu Kyi freed from house arrest
  • 30 Mar 2011: Transfer of power to new government complete
  • 19 Aug: Aung San Suu Kyi meets Burmese President Thein Sein
  • 12 Oct: More than 200 political prisoners freed
  • 13 Oct: New labour laws allowing unions passed
  • 17 Nov: Burma granted Asean chair in 2014
  • 23 Dec: NLD registers as political party
  • 12 Jan: Karen ceasefire signed
  • 13 Jan: Highest-profile political prisoners freed

Since then his military-backed civilian government has begun a process of reform, including dialogue with the pro-democracy camp.

This month it held ceasefire talks with rebel groups and released hundreds of political prisoners, including the highest-profile dissidents.

Speaking from his office in the capital Nay Pyi Taw, he told the Washington Post that he had been able to ''reach an understanding'' with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Nobel Laureate and head of the National League for Democracy (NLD) - who was freed from house arrest shortly after the November polls - has registered to run in a by-election on 1 April for a parliamentary seat.

Correspondents say the polls will be a key test of the government's reformist credentials.

''If the people vote for her, she will be elected and become a member of parliament,'' he said. ''I am sure that the parliament will warmly welcome her. This is our plan.''

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