Barack Obama warned: don't be lured by Burma 'mirage of success'
Aung San Suu Kyi has warned Barack Obama not to be "lured by a mirage of success", as he became the first ever sitting US president to visit the onetime pariah state. Ms Suu Kyi, who welcomed Mr Obama at her home in Rangoon, said that "difficult years" still lie ahead for Burma
"I say difficult because the most difficult time in any transition is when we think that success is in sight. Then we have to be very careful that we are not lured by a mirage of success," she said.
The White House has already come under fire from human rights groups for agreeing to visit Burma in the aftermath of deadly clashes between the Muslim Rohingya minority and the Buddhist majority in western Burma, and while hundreds of political prisoners remain in jail. On Monday, the Burmese authorities announced the release of a further 66 political detainees, but the opposition National League for Democracy estimate that at least 180 more are still imprisoned.
Washington was insistent that President Obama's six hour trip be confined to Rangoon, and not the new capital of Naypyidaw, which was created by the former military junta that ran Burma.
Yet as well as announcing £107 million in aid to the country and praising its "remarkable journey" since the reform process began in 2010, the President appeared to reward the Burmese government further by referring to the country as Myanmar during his meeting with Burma's President Thein Sein. Later, he began his afternoon speech at Rangoon University by saying "Hello Myanmar" in Burmese. Myanmar is the name given to the country when the generals were still in power, and is still not used by either Washington or the UK, who continue to refer to the country as Burma. Subsequently, President Obama described his use of 'Myanmar' as a "diplomatic courtesy". But the President's speech did call for an end to the sectarian violence in western Burma's Rakhine State.
"For the sake of this country's future, it is necessary to stop the violence," said President Obama. He went on to hint at the need for changes to Burma's restrictive nationality laws that render the Rohingya stateless.
"Only the people of this country can define what it means to be a citizen of this country is," he said. "But I have confidence that as you do that you can draw on this diversity as a strength and not a weakness."
There was no direct call, though, for the release of the remaining political prisoners. But the President did speak of "a future where one prisoner of conscience is one too many."
The choice of the Convocation Hall at Rangoon University for President Obama's speech was highly symbolic. The university was at the centre of the 1988 pro-democracy student protests that were crushed by the military junta and led to the country being treated as a pariah state for over two decades.
Before his speech, the President met a number of activists from the 1988 generation. "I asked him to help promote the capacity of the young generation in terms of educating them about democracy. I was impressed by Obama. He listened carefully and said he would do what he could," Myo Yan Naung Thein, a 1988 student leader who was imprisoned for almost a decade, told The Daily Telegraph.
But President Obama's remarks to an audience of around 1,500 people were greeted politely rather than with rapturous applause. His frequent extolling of the United States as a model for Burma to follow was not appreciated by all the audience.
"I didn't like the speech too much. Our country has changed a lot since the start of the reforms. He doesn't seem to think that. He wants us to follow the example of the US, but we need to find our own way," said Phyo Si Thar, a 22-year-old student from Burma's Maritime University. Yet even critics of his speech conceded that President Obama's whirlwind trip has energised the country. Thousands of people lined the roads near the airport for his arrival Monday morning.
In a stark contrast to his relaxed approach towards Burma, President Obama was highly critical of Cambodia's poor record on human rights after he flew into the capital Phnom Penh late Monday afternoon ahead of tomorrow's (Tuesday) East Asia Summit. In what was described as a 'tense' meeting, President Obama pressed Cambodia's increasingly authoritarian Prime Minister Hun Sen on the need for free and fair elections and the release of political prisoners, according to deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes.
Posted by: Au Auric 2012-11-20