Foreign Policy & National Security

US senator hails ‘profound moment’ for Myanmar

April 10, 2012

YANGON: A US senator Wednesday hailed “a profound moment” in Myanmar’s history as he concluded a visit to the country in the wake of landmark by-elections swept by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Democratic Senator Jim Webb, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on East Asia and Pacific Affairs, said he would return to Washington to discuss ways that the United States can encourage change. “In my view what we are seeing in this country is a profound moment in history,” Webb, a longtime advocate of engagement with Myanmar, told reporters in Yangon.

“I am very proud to have been able to visit your country and speak with your leaders on the heels of such a monumental election,” he added.

The US responded to the April 1 by-elections by announcing a series of rewards, including an easing of longstanding restrictions on US investment and financial services in the resource-rich but impoverished nation.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hailed the “leadership and courage” of President Thein Sein after the vote, which gave Suu Kyi her first seat in parliament. The Nobel laureate held rare talks with the Myanmar leader on Wednesday in the capital Naypyidaw as she prepares to enter the legislature later this month. Her National League for Democracy (NLD) party secured 43 of the 44 seats it contested, becoming the main opposition force in a national parliament that remains dominated by the military and its political allies.

Suu Kyi, who has ruled out suggestions that she could join the government, has indicated an interest in working towards national reconciliation in a country racked by ethnic tensions and civil conflict for over half a century.

Thein Sein, a former junta general, has ushered in a series of reforms that have surprised even sceptics, including signing ceasefires with some major minority rebel groups and accepting the opposition into the mainstream. afp