Myanmar's president calls for easing tensions

AP News
Posted: Aug 22, 2011 10:33 AM
Myanmar's president calls for easing tensions

Myanmar's new president told Parliament on Monday that his government is trying to ease tensions with opposition parties and seek better relations with the country's numerous ethnic groups.

In his first speech to Parliament, President Thein Sein did not mention that he had met on Friday with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was released from seven years of house arrest in November. Suu Kyi told reporters that she was "happy and satisfied" with the talks.

Thein Sein, who served as prime minister under the previous military junta, is considered a moderate compared to previous leaders. He took power in March following elections in November that critics said were designed to create a nominally civilian government controlled by the military.

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party boycotted the elections, saying they were undemocratic.

Thein Sein said his government is trying to "ease the tension" with political groups who "still do not accept the country's constitution."

That charter, which gives the military a continued prominent role in government, was approved in a 2008 referendum and came into effect in January this year.

Myanmar came under military rule in 1962 and political dissent was brutally suppressed. Suu Kyi's party swept the last elections in 1990 but was barred from taking power.

Thein Sein also said his government is willing to hold peace talks with armed ethnic groups, and that development of the border areas where they live depends on stability.

Critics have accused Thein Sein of creating a facade of liberalization to prompt Western nations to lift sanctions imposed over the country's political and human rights record.

He also told Parliament his government has officially informed the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that Myanmar is ready to take its chairmanship in 2014.

In 2006, Myanmar was pressured to give up its turn in ASEAN's rotating chairmanship due to fears of a Western boycott of all of the group's meetings.

Western nations have also been critical of Myanmar taking over the chairmanship in 2014.

"We trust that ASEAN members will gauge whether a potential chair can advance the organization's credibility and leadership role in the region," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said last month.

ASEAN admitted Myanmar in 1997 despite strong opposition from Western nations.