- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 13, 2014

On his second trip to Myanmar in as many years, President Obama said Thursday that the Southeast Asian nation is in danger of heading “backward” on its road to political, economic and social reform.

In an interview with the Irrawaddy news magazine, the president said Myanmar has taken some positive steps since the birth of a reform movement four years ago. But he also said the nation has a long way to go, and has regressed in some areas.

“Progress has not come as fast as many had hoped when the transition began four years ago. In some areas there has been a slowdown in reforms, and even some steps backward. Former political prisoners continue to face restrictions. Members of the media have been arrested,” Mr. Obama said.

“One of the main messages that I’ll deliver on this visit is that the government of Myanmar has a responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of all people in the country, and that the fundamental human rights and freedoms of all people should be respected. That’s the only way reforms can stay on track. That’s the only way that this country is going to realize greater prosperity and its rightful place in the region and the world,” he said. “That would be a success, above all, for the people of Myanmar, and that would be good for the United States and the world.”

Mr. Obama is in Myanmar for the annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit. He previously visited the country in 2012 on the heels of historic elections in 2010.

Over the past several years, the new government has made progress in key areas, such as instituting a constitutional reform process, releasing some political prisoners and implementing cease-fire agreements to end violent conflicts across the country, he said

Myanmar is set to hold elections again next year. Asked whether he believes those elections will be free and fair, Mr. Obama said only that the U.S. will monitor the contests.

“The United States is watching the electoral process very closely. I am not going to prejudge the outcome of an election that has not happened yet,” the president said. “What I will say is that this election will be an important milestone, and the people of your country — and the international community — want it to be credible so that it advances the cause of reform.”

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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