Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday announced that the U.S. and Myanmar will start the process of exchanging ambassadors, a distinct sign of a thaw in once frosty relations between the two countries.
Mrs. Clinton said the lengthy process will depend on the pace of reform in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, which has pursued several political reforms since the election last year of a civilian government backed by the country’s erstwhile military rulers.
The decision to re-establish diplomatic ties followed Myanmar’s amnesty for many prisoners of conscience and its announcement Thursday of a cease-fire with ethnic Karen rebels who have been fighting for autonomy since the country became independent in 1948.
Both were key U.S. demands for an improvement in the bilateral relationship.
She also called on the government to cut all illicit military ties with North Korea.
Mrs. Clinton visited Myanmar in December, and met President Thein Sein, a former general, and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the opposition National League for Democracy. Mrs. Suu Kyi was released in November after spending 15 of the past 20 years in prison or under house arrest.
Earlier Friday, President Obama called Thein Sein’s decision to release political prisoners “a substantial step forward for democratic reform.”
The National League for Democracy won the election by a landslide in 1990, but the military prevented it from ruling. The party was barred from participating in November 2010 elections, which the U.S. declared a sham.
The U.S. has not had an ambassador in Myanmar since 1990.
“We will continue to support universal rights, and engage the government as it takes the additional steps necessary to advance freedom for prisoners of conscience, democratic governance, and national reconciliation,” he said.
“Much more remains to be done to meet the aspirations of the Burmese people, but the United States is committed to continuing our engagement with the government in Nay Pyi Taw,” he added, referring to the Myanmarese capital.
Since Thein Sein took office in March, he has taken several steps to improve relations with the international community. In September, he suspended construction of a Chinese-operated hydropower dam in Kachin state, a significant development that angered China, a key ally of the Myanmarese military.
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
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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