Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she wants to “work closely” with the country’s powerful armed forces, dismissing rumors that her recent trip to Thailand has strained relations with the president’s military-backed government.
“My feelings for the Tatmadaw have never been hostile,” she said, using the Burmese name for the military at a press conference at her National League for Democracy party headquarters in Rangoon following her return from a landmark trip to Thailand.
“I would like to work closely with the army,” she said.
The Burmese military brutally ruled the country for decades before it allowed for elections that paved the way in March last year for a new nominally civilian government, which has introduced political and economic reforms.
“There are certain activities involving the military that I do not like, but such things do not have to be forever,” said Aung San Suu Kyi, who endured more than a decade of house arrest under the then military junta before her release in November 2010.
The 66-year-old Nobel laureate added that she had always had “great affection” for the Tatmadaw, having been born into the military family of her father General Aung San, Burma’s independence hero.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who had spent 15 years of the last two decades under house arrest, had previously refused to leave the country during brief periods of freedom for fear she would not be allowed to return to her homeland by the generals who considered her a threat to their grip on power.
Since being elected to parliament in landmark elections in April, Aung San Suu Kyi has said she will work to amend the constitution which the junta drafted in 2008 and which reserves one quarter of the legislature's seats for members of the military.
On Friday, Minister of Defense Lieutenant-General Hla Min said at an international security forum in Singapore that that proportion could be reduced “when the time is appropriate.”
Aung San Suu Kyi said Wednesday that she “welcomed” his comment and hoped it would lead to “positive developments” and further reform.
Last week, she had said that she doubted the military’s level of commitment to further reforms, though she believed in President Thein Sein’s sincerity toward bringing about change.
The president then abruptly cancelled his trip to Thailand that would have coincided with Aung San Suu Kyi’s, sparking speculation of a rift between the two.
Thein Sein had been scheduled to attend the same World Economic Forum meeting in Bangkok that Aung San Suu Kyi addressed, but he postponed his visit just days before the forum and then cancelled it without explanation, apparently sending a message that he would not be upstaged.
At her speech to international business leaders at the meeting, Aung San Suu Kyi warned them to be “cautious” with pumping investment into Burma following the easing of sanctions that are opening up the country after decades of isolation.
Aung San Suu Kyi said Wednesday her visit to Thailand, during which she met with Burmese migrant workers and refugees living Thailand, should not affect her relationship with Thein Sein’s government.
“I don’t think that I did anything that could make anybody in Burma unhappy,” she said.
She added that her visit to the Mae La camp for refugees fleeing ethnic fighting with Burmese government troops near the Thai border would not affect peace talks the government is negotiating with ethnic rebels, saying the two issues are “different matters altogether.”
“I do not think that my activities there could in any way affect the situation of Burmese people adversely,” she said.
Aung San Suu Kyi and Thein Sein have held talks twice since her release from house arrest in November 2010.
Two rare opinion articles on Aung San Suu Kyi’s role appeared over the weekend in the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper, calling her a “leader” and urging the pair to “cooperate.”
Aung San Suu Kyi will leave for a tour of Europe next week, speaking at an International Labor Organization meeting in Geneva, picking up her 1996 Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, and speaking to the British Parliament in London.
She will also attend a U2 concert in her honor in Dublin and visit France for several days before returning to Rangoon at the end of the month.
Reported by RFA’s Burmese service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.