Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday cautioned against over-optimism as the country grapples with reforms, warning of the risk of a “mirage of success” in the transition from military dictatorship to democracy.
She gave the warning after meeting with visiting U.S. President Barack Obama at her home in Rangoon during his historic six-hour trip to Burma that he said was aimed at acknowledging democratic reforms embraced so far by the once-pariah state.
Speaking to reporters after their talks, Aung San Suu Kyi, the head of the National League for Democracy party, warned that Burma’s road to democracy would be difficult despite successful reforms since the end of decades of harsh military rule.
"The most difficult time in any transition is when we think that success is in sight," she said, standing next to Obama on the balcony of the lakeside villa where she had spent years under arrest under the former military junta.
“We have to be very careful that we are not lured by a mirage of success and that we are working to a genuine success for our people and for the friendship between our two countries,” Aung San Suu Kyi said.
But she said she has confidence in continuing “staunch” support from the U.S. for the democracy movement in Burma “through the difficult years that lie ahead."
Obama’s visit to the country, the first by a sitting U.S. president, will help relations between the two countries “progress in the right direction,” she said.
'Sustain the momentum'
Outside the villa, crowds chanted shouts of “Obama” and “freedom” to greet the visiting leader.
Obama, who met with Aung San Suu Kyi after talks with Burmese President Thein Sein, said the aim of discussions during his visit was to push for further reforms in Burma.
“In my talks here in Yangon [Rangoon], our goal is to sustain the momentum for democratization,” he told reporters at Aung San Suu Kyi’s house.
"I want to make a pledge to the people of this country,” he said, “that if we see continued progress towards reform our bilateral ties will grow stronger and we will do everything we can to help ensure success.”
He said some of Burma’s remaining work to do on reforms include building credible government institutions, establishing rule of law, and ending ethnic conflicts.
He added that Aung San Suu Kyi, who joined parliament after her party swept by-elections in April this year, would “clearly be playing a key role” in Burma’s future as the country’s reforms progress further.
While waiting for Obama to arrive at the villa, Rangoon resident Tin Tin Lay said she excited to welcome the leader.
“He has helped Burma’s democratic transition and honored Aung San Suu Kyi [with the visit]. That’s why I wanted to welcome him,” said
“In the future, I hope he will continue to do more of this,” she said.
Another supporter outside the home, Ko Than Hteik Aung, said he is looking forward to improving economic ties with the U.S., which ended a nearly decade-old ban on most imports from Burma days before the leader’s visit.
“I’m hoping that Burma and America will become closer on trade relations and other issues,” he said.
Outside Rangoon University, where Obama spoke after meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, demonstrators gathered to welcome Obama and at the same time urge him to press Burma on human rights.
“I welcome President Obama. But there is a 60-year-old civil war in Burma, and we want to urge President Obama to help end it,” said demonstration organizer Moe Thway, referring to ongoing ethnic conflicts that have raged since the country’s founding.
“Human rights violations are still a concern. To end those rights violations, we all want President Obama to help,” he said.
Reported by RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Win Naing. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.