WASHINGTON (AP) — A senior U.S. envoy returning from high-level talks in Myanmar said Thursday he is optimistic that engagement on human rights with its reformist government can yield results, as the country emerges from international isolation over its suppression of democracy activists and ethnic minorities.
Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner led the U.S. delegation for an unprecedented two-day human rights dialogue in Naypyitaw this week. Among those taking part were three Myanmar government ministers, military officials and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a former political prisoner who was elected to parliament this year and now chairs a parliamentary committee on law reform.
Posner, the State Department's point man on human rights, said he had not known what to expect from the talks that come just months after the U.S. resumed full diplomatic ties. He said he found officials open and honest, and willing to engage in a practical way.
"In some of these negotiations or dialogues you get the sense that people come in with a fixed position and discussions are too predictable. This was refreshing. It was raising things that have not been raised before at the levels we were raising them," Posner told The Associated Press. "There's a way forward for us to engage in a meaningful way that I think will have productive results."
They discussed issues such as political prisoners — hundreds remain despite releases of around 700 in the past year — how to integrate human rights concerns into the operations of military and security forces.
Posner declined to give details of the talks, or say whether Myanmar signaled a readiness to free more prisoners.
He said the U.S. raised concerns over the recent communal violence in western Rakhine State between Buddhists and Muslims, and urged humanitarian access in northern Kachin State, where clashes between the military and ethnic rebels have displaced tens of thousands of civilians.
Activists say military abuses have persisted, and have criticized the pace which the U.S. has eased sanctions on Myanmar — most recently lifting a restriction that required Washington block aid from international financial institutions to the country also known as Burma. On Thursday, the State Department announced it is ready to vote in support of assistance to Myanmar at the World Bank's board meetings in early November.
Posner also visited northeastern Shan State, where a cease-fire between the military and ethnic rebel groups is in place but distrust remains — an indication of the long road ahead if this diverse nation of 65 million people is to achieve national reconciliation after five decades of military rule.
He said the rebels are unwilling to lay down their weapons until they have a peace agreement with the government, and are waiting for a cease-fire in the Kachin conflict to pave the way for a consolidated negotiation between the government and all the ethnic armed groups.