US Envoy Meets ‘The Lady’

The U.S. envoy travels to Burma for a second time amidst signs of reform in the country.

envoyvisit-305.jpg Derek Mitchell shakes hands with Aung San Suu Kyi following a meeting at her home in Rangoon, Sept. 12, 2011.

Washington’s envoy to Burma met with pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday during his second visit to the country in just over a month in a bid to further engage the Burmese government which has taken initial reform steps following decades of military rule.

U.S. coordinator for policy on Burma Derek Mitchell spoke with the Nobel laureate in Rangoon at the end of a two-day visit to the country, according to a spokesperson for Suu Kyi’s opposition group the National League for Democracy (NLD).

"They held a discussion at the residence of the U.S. deputy ambassador in the afternoon from 2:00-3:45 p.m.,”  NLD spokesperson Ohn Kyaing said, adding however that he could not disclose what was discussed.

The talks mark the second meeting between Mitchell and Suu Kyi. The two last held talks during Mitchell’s first official trip to Burma last month, during which he said that the U.S. would maintain economic sanctions on the country until concrete steps towards democracy were taken.

U.S. embassy officials said that Mitchell held meetings with senior government officials, including Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin and Speaker of the Lower House of Parliament Thura Shwe Mann during the first day of his trip on Monday.

No details of that meeting were released, although the U.S. embassy released a statement saying that Mitchell “uses every opportunity to raise with Burmese authorities our longstanding core concerns, including the need for the release of all political prisoners, dialogue with the opposition and ethnic minorities, adherence to Burma’s international obligations on nonproliferation, and end to violence against ethnic minorities.”

Many speculate that Mitchell may have brought news of how the U.S. could ease sanctions on Burma in light of recent reforms by the government.

Signs of reform

Burma’s government, led by President Thein Sein, has launched a series of reform initiatives in recent months, including dialogue with the opposition, the scrapping of a controversial dam project, an invitation to armed ethnic groups to hold peace talks and planned changes to Burma's currency system.

In return for these moves towards reform, the U.S. government has lifted its travel restrictions on some Burmese government officials, including Wunna Maung Lwin, and invited a Burmese delegation to observe a U.S.-led meeting of the Friends of the Lower Mekong—a group which aims to strengthen ties with Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

Mitchell, who was appointed envoy in August, said last week that he was also encouraged by the Burmese government’s release of more than 200 political prisoners as part of a general amnesty announced following his first trip to the country.

But he said Naypyidaw must release its remaining estimated 1,800 political prisoners, commit to deeper reforms, and end violence against the country’s ethnic minorities before the Washington would consider the lifting of certain sanctions.

"We have seen encouraging signs over time," said Mitchell at the time, noting that Burma had not, however, curbed violence against ethnic minorities in the north and east of the country.

"What we're looking for is a release of all political prisoners without condition to really send the signal of genuine commitment to democracy in the country," he said.

A group of legislators from member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) last week requested that any decision to designate Burma as chair of the regional grouping in 2014 be put off until there are clear signs that the country is moving towards democracy.

The lawmakers specifically said they could not endorse Burma’s bid until the government makes concrete efforts at reconciliation with the country’s ethnic groups and political opposition.

Reported by RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Khin May Zaw. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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