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Obama meets Suu Kyi, calls for greater reforms in Burma

Mandel Ngan, AFP | US President Barack Obama and Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi before a press conference at her Rangoon residence.

US President Barack Obama warned Friday that Burma’s reforms were by "no means complete or irreversible" after talks with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in the Burmese economic capital Rangoon.

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Speaking at a joint press conference with his fellow Nobel laureate, Obama urged "free, fair and inclusive" elections in the former army-run nation, where Suu Kyi and her party are set to contest crucial polls next year.

Suu Kyi, who is currently barred from becoming president by Burma’s junta-era constitution, urged a "healthy balance between optimism and pessimism" towards the nation's slow reform process.

The two Nobel laureates spoke to reporters after a private meeting at Suu Kyi’s lakeside home in the Burmese economic capital of Rangoon, where she spent much of her more than two decades under house arrest.

Suu Kyi opened the press conference by addressing reports of tension between the US and those working for democratic reforms in Burma (also known as Myanmar). She noted that although the US and Burmese opposition leaders may occasionally view things differently, the bond is very strong.

She did however warn that the reform process is “going through a bumpy patch'' and warned against too much optimism that could lead to complacency.

Criticisms of Suu Kyi’s track record on Rohingya Muslims

Friday’s meeting came amid questions over whether Obama’s much-triumphed overtures to the isolated Asian nation two years ago were premature.

The latest visit is Obama’s second to Burma. During his historic November 2012 trip to the country, the first by a sitting US president, Obama announced US sanctions relief following Burma’s emergence from the “Bamboo Curtain” – a reference to the military’s extreme isolationist policies under the so-called “Burmese Way of Socialism”.

But in recent months, there have been growing frustrations not just over the military’s slow pace of reforms, but also of Suu Kyi’s record on addressing the human rights violations against the country’s oppressed Rohingya Muslim community.

In a column for the US news site Politico, researcher Adam Lerner noted that activists from Suu Kyi’s political party, “knew that if Aung San Suu Kyi were to publically denounce the Buddhist rioters who have been brutalizing the Rohingya and press the government for more assistance, her National League for Democracy (NLD) party might face backlash from Burmese Buddhists that don’t view Rohingya Muslims as legitimate citizens of Myanmar (though most scholars agree that a majority of the Rohingya community has been present in historical Burma for hundreds of years).”

Lerner added that both Obama and Suu Kyi “would probably prefer to ignore” the plight of the Rohingya Muslims.

‘Unfair, unjust and undemocratic’ constitution

The focus of Friday’s joint press conference was the military’s failure to change the constitution, which bars Suu Kyi from running for next year’s presidential poll on a technicality.

Drafted in 2008, the constitution stipulates that a quarter of the seats in parliament are reserved for the military, which has veto power over any constitutional changes. The constitution also bars any Burmese national with foreign family members from the presidency – a clause specifically targeted against Suu Kyi, whose sons have British nationalities.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Suu Kyi decried the constitution as “unfair, unjust and undemocratic,” while Obama said the law banning the Burmese opposition leader from the presidency “makes no sense”.

Friday’s talks between the US president and Burmese opposition leader took place after Obama met Burmese President Thein Sein in the capital of Naypyidaw Thursday and expressed cautious optimism for the political and economic changes under the general-turned-leader's rule, which began in 2011.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)
 

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