Suu Kyi backs down over Burmese parliamentary oath

Aung San Suu Kyi: "We decided to compromise... because we don't want to become a political problem"

Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and fellow opposition MPs will take a parliamentary oath despite disputing the wording of it.

Ms Suu Kyi, who was elected to parliament a month ago, said her party was willing to compromise to prevent it complicating political matters.

She and 42 other National League for Democracy MPs will be sworn in to parliament on Wednesday.

Earlier, the head of the UN urged parties to work together for democracy.

In a historic address to Burma's parliament, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was encouraged by recent reform efforts in the country, but said the process of change was fragile and needed nurturing.

He also held talks with President Thein Sein, a former military figure who has ushered in a series of reforms since becoming leader last year.

'Not giving up'

Analysis

Aung San Suu Kyi is renowned for sticking to her principles. So the decision to back away from the dispute over the parliamentary oath of office will be seen by many as an uncharacteristic retreat.

Aung San Suu Kyi insists her party is not giving up its fight to get the wording changed, but she says the NLD has responded to appeals from supporters to take up the seats won in historic by-elections.

Amending the constitution, which was drawn up by the old military government, will continue to be the focus of political battles in Burma. The document currently enshrines the armed forces' role in politics.

The NLD believes that has to change if Burma is to become a true democracy. But the opposition, and its iconic leader, appear to have accepted that they will have to work to make those changes from within the system, however hard that may turn out to be.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who is due to meet Mr Ban on Tuesday, said her party would "proceed as quickly as possible to become legal members of parliament by swearing the oath".

The NLD last week said they would not take part in a swearing-in ceremony unless the wording of the oath was changed from "safeguard" to "respect" the constitution.

On Monday she said: "Some people might ask, given that we didn't accept the wording of 'safeguard' in the beginning, why we accept now. 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 added: "We are not giving up, we are just yielding to the aspirations of the people."

In his speech to parliament, Mr Ban praised the "vision, leadership and courage" of President Thein Sein and Ms Aung San Suu Kyi.

He said: "The path to change is fragile and uncertain but it is too narrow to turn back."

He called on the parties in Burma to work together and to "summon the political will to make lasting change".

The BBC's Rachel Harvey, in the capital Nay Pyi Taw, says the parliamentarians sat quietly and respectfully as Mr Ban delivered key messages in a speech broadcast live on television.

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 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 2012: Karen ceasefire signed
  • 13 Jan: Highest-profile political prisoners freed
  • 1 April: NLD wins 43 out of 45 seats in polls, generally seen as fair
  • 23 April: EU suspends most sanctions for a year

She says this was a very significant moment - as Mr Ban became the first foreigner to address Burma's fledgling parliament.

Mr Ban also called for further sanctions to be lifted against Burma, and said much more work needed to be done to achieve peace with ethnic minorities, particularly the Kachin people.

The resurgence of fighting between the Burmese army and Kachin rebels has displaced tens of thousands of people, says our correspondent, who is travelling with Mr Ban in Burma. But the UN has struggled to get the access it needs to be able to help them.

Mr Ban is also due to visit the northern Shan State, one of the world's biggest opium-growing regions, where the UN has started a poppy eradication programme.

Mr Ban left frustrated after his last visit, in 2009, on the invitation of former junta strongman Gen Than Shwe, describing it as a "very difficult mission".

On that visit he was denied access to Aung San Suu Kyi, who was then in detention.

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Burma's Transition

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