Ending a historic three-day visit to Burma, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday vowed to work with pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi to encourage democracy initiatives in the reclusive Southeast Asian nation.
The announcement came following a second day of talks between the two women at Aung San Suu Kyi’s home in Rangoon.
“Democracy is the goal. It has been the goal from the very beginning. And yet we know that it has been a long, very difficult path that has been followed,” Clinton said as she stood beside the Nobel laureate on the steps of her porch.
“The United States wants to be a partner with Burma. We want to work with you as you further democratization.”
Aung San Suu Kyi thanked Clinton for her visit—the first by a U.S. secretary of state in more than 50 years—and welcomed U.S. engagement with her country, which she called “careful and calibrated.”
"If we move forward together I am confident there will be no turning back on the road to democracy," Aung San Suu Kyi said, referring to her opposition National League for Democracy party and the Burmese government, as well as the U.S. and other countries.
"We are not on that road yet, but we hope to get there as soon as possible with the help and understanding of our friends," she said.
"We are happy with the way in which the United States is engaging with us," she added. "It is through engagement that we hope to promote the process of democratization. Because of this engagement, I think our way ahead will be clearer and we will be able to trust that the process of democratization will go forward."
Clinton underlined the need for Burma’s nominally civilian government to push ahead with further reforms before the U.S. would offer significant incentives, including the possibility of lifting economic sanctions—just as she had while meeting with officials in the capital Naypyidaw on Thursday.
In particular, she called for the release of all of Burma’s estimated 1,600 political prisoners, an end to armed conflict with ethnic minority groups, and the improvement of human rights conditions.
"We are prepared to go further if reforms maintain momentum. But history teaches us to be cautious. We know that there have been serious setbacks and grave disappointments over the past decades."
In addition to offering support for international aid to Burma and considering the normalization of diplomatic ties with the country while in Naypyidaw, Clinton said Friday that the U.S. would spend about U.S. $1.2 million for projects meant to assist Burma’s population through micro loans and health care initiatives.
Meanwhile, the Burmese government has reached a ceasefire agreement with the ethnic Shan minority rebel group, according to a mediator with the civic group Myanmar Egress.
The deal was agreed to with the Shan State Army (South) on Friday and will be finalized soon, Kyaw Yin Hlaing told Reuters.
"Some of agreements they reached are to cease fire, to open liaison offices, cooperate in combating narcotics, and to discuss area demarcation at the national level talks," he said.
But sources tell RFA that the ceasefire agreement is preliminary and does little to address the majority of concerns the ethnic group has voiced over being given a larger stake in the changing politics of Burma.
The government has held preliminary talks with other ethnic armies in recent months, including the Karen National Union and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which have fought the Burmese army on and off for for more than 60 years.
A Burmese government delegation, led by the country’s Railways Minister Aung Min, held talks with representatives of the Kachin rebel group in China’s Yunnan province earlier this week.
The New Light of Myanmar newspaper confirmed that the high-level delegation met Tuesday with six representatives of the Kachin Independence Organization led by its chairman Zaung Hara in the town of Ruili.
It said both sides agreed at the meeting to continue peace talks aimed at a cease-fire and political dialogue.
U.S.-based rights group Physicians for Human Rights said in a statement Thursday that it applauded Secretary of State Clinton for expressing concern about violence against the ethnic groups during talks with officials.
The group issued a report ahead of her visit to Burma detailing attacks by the Burmese military on civilians, including looting food, firing indiscriminately into villages, and forcing civilians to serve as porters and human minesweepers.
Reported by Joshua Lipes.