Myanmar's military-backed government must release all political prisoners and stop violating the rights of ethnic minorities before it can expect normal relations with the United States, a top Obama administration official said Monday.
The release this month of hundreds of political prisoners in the Southeast Asian nation formerly known as Burma has sparked cautious optimism that the secretive regime may be taking tangible steps toward political reform.
The Myanmar government has said it will free all political prisoners as part of an amnesty. About 220 were released last week. Pro-democracy activists and the government cite vastly differing estimates of the number of political prisoners. The activists put the number at more than 2,000, while the government says the number is much lower.
“Any political prisoners are too many political prisoners. … What we’re looking for is [the] release of all political prisoners without condition to really send the signal of genuine commitment to democracy in the country,” Derek J. Mitchell, the first U.S. special representative for Myanmar, told reporters at the State Department.
“I think what we’re seeing … theres a positive trend line, encouraging signs,” he said.
The Obama administration has pursued a dual-track approach toward Myanmar that has included a combination of talks and sanctions on the regime. Over the past several months, the Myanmar government, led by President Thein Sein, a former general, has taken steps toward change.
Pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in November after spending 15 of the last 21 years under some form of detention. She has since had meetings with government officials. Some restrictions on the media have also been lifted.
Last month, Myanmar Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin was allowed to travel to Washington for meetings at the State Department.
“It’s not as if we’re standing still and we’re not sending signals,” he said.
Pro-democracy activists are skeptical about signs of change in Myanmar.View Entire Story
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Ashish Kumar Sen is a reporter covering foreign policy and international developments for The Washington Times.
Prior to joining The Times, Mr. Sen worked for publications in Asia and the Middle East. His work has appeared in a number of publications and online news sites including the British Broadcasting Corp., Asia Times Online and Outlook magazine.
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