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Myanmar’s promises unfulfilled as leader meets with Obama
Myanmar’s president will meet Monday with President Obama amid criticism that the Southeast Asian country has done little to end its war against ethnic minority rebels, protect stateless Muslims or institutionalize democratic reforms that have been promised since its military junta was dissolved in 2011.
“This trip is premature and undeserved,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “The Obama administration says, ‘We reward them for their reforms,’ but the problem is it seems to reward [Myanmar’s rulers] whether they reform or not. It is not calibrating its carrots and sticks correctly.”
Frank Jannuzi, deputy executive director for Amnesty International USA, said the administration must avoid treating Thein Sein’s visit as a “mission accomplished” moment, referring to President George W. Bush’s pronouncement about the Iraq war in 2003.
“This is a time for the Obama administration to underscore the continuing challenges that Myanmar faces in the areas of human rights, rule of law and transparency, and to develop an action plan with the government of Myanmar to address those concerns,” Mr. Jannuzi said. “We are not against high-level diplomacy with Myanmar, but it should be focused on a future-oriented agenda for reform … what it should not be is a premature celebration of job well done.”
The Obama administration began normalizing ties with Myanmar in 2011 as the government of Thein Sein, a former general, took steps toward reform. Derek Mitchell was appointed the first U.S. ambassador to Myanmar in two decades, and most of the sanctions against the nation formerly known as Burma were lifted.
Meanwhile in western Rakhine state, security forces have raped, arrested and killed stateless Muslim Rohingyas, more than 100,000 of whom have been left homeless by communal violence with majority Buddhists.
“For us ethnic minorities, the White House visit is a slap in the face,” said Myra Dahgaypaw, an ethnic Karen human rights activist who was a refugee for 17 years after her family was displaced by war in Myanmar.
“If the Obama administration really wants to help the people of Burma, it needs to slow down,” said Ms. Dahgaypaw, who is campaign coordinator at the U.S. Campaign for Burma in Washington. “There have to be preconditions for all the carrots it is putting out there. The Burmese people’s lives are still in danger.”
“The president’s approach is not to wait for Burma to perfect itself but to dig into the hard work of helping Burma cement the gains it has made and accelerate further reform,” said a senior U.S. administration official who spoke on background.
Myanmar has released more than 850 political prisoners, including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but many of them risk being thrown back into prison to serve the remainder of their terms.
Aung Din, a former political prisoner who now lives in the U.S., said Mr. Obama must demand that Thein Sein make the release of political prisoners unconditional.
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
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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