Asia

Aung San Suu Kyi attends Burma's Armed Forces Day

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in yellow, talks with Deputy Border Affairs Minister Maj. Gen. Zaw Win, left, during Myanmar's 68th anniversary celebrations of Armed Forces Day, in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, Wednesday, March 27, 2013.
Image caption Ms Suu Kyi's presence at the parade is seen as deeply symbolic

Burma has marked its Armed Forces Day with a military parade, with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in attendance for the first time.

Ms Suu Kyi's presence is seen as a sign of improving ties with the military since her release from house arrest.

Addressing the gathering, army chief General Min Aung Hlaing told troops the military would maintain a role in national politics.

The event comes ongoing communal violence in central Burma.

Armed Forces Day marks the 68th anniversary of Burma's uprising against Japanese rule.

Over 6,000 troops were in attendance, as military jeeps and tanks took part in the parade in Burma's capital, Nay Pyi Taw.

Aung San Suu Kyi's attendance is a striking symbol of the reconciliation between her and the institution that locked her and so many of her supporters up for many years, the BBC's South East Asia correspondent Jonathan Head reports.

In the past she was a strident critic of the military's grip on Burma. Today she is making conspicuous efforts to build good relations with the armed forces, which still hold an automatic quarter of the seats in parliament, our correspondent adds.

'Leading role'

Elections in November 2010 replaced decades of military rule with a military-backed civilian government, which has since initiated a series of reforms.

Ms Suu Kyi was freed from years of house arrest in late 2010. Her NLD party, which boycotted the polls, now has a small presence in parliament after rejoining the political fold and contesting subsequent by-elections, which resulted in a landslide win.

But the military-backed party has a much larger presence in Burma's new chamber.

"While the country is moving toward modern democracy, our military plays a leading role in national politics," General Min Aung Hlaing said at the parade.

Image caption Curfews have been imposed on four Burmese towns in response to violent clashes

"We will keep on marching to strengthen the democratic path wished by the people."

The army chief also addressed the anti-Muslim clashes in central Burma that have led to 40 reported deaths and made an estimated 12,000 Muslims homeless.

"Our independence came from all Burmese people, including every ethnic minority - therefore we have to protect it," he said.

"The conflict that is going on now, the army never wants that to happen again."

The violence broke out after a reported argument at a gold shop in Meiktila in Mandalay region last week which sparked clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in the town.

Mosques and other buildings were razed, and a state of emergency has been imposed in Meiktila.

Overnight curfews have also been imposed on three other Burmese towns as the clashes have spread closer to Rangoon.

The conflict is the worst since violence in Rakhine state last year, where nearly 200 people were killed and tens of thousands forced from their homes.

The communal conflict that erupted in the western state involved Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, who are not recognised as Burmese citizens. Scores of Rohingyas have fled what they say is persecution in Burma in recent months.