Suu Kyi: Myanmar has made progress, more is needed

AP News
Posted: Nov 14, 2011 10:58 AM
Suu Kyi: Myanmar has made progress, more is needed

Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Monday that Myanmar's government has taken positive steps toward reform in the year since she was released from house arrest but more needs to be done, including freeing hundreds more political prisoners.

The Nobel peace laureate, speaking to more than 100 journalists on the anniversary of her release, cited her meetings with minister Aung Kyi and President Thein Sein as progress.

"Looking back at the past year, I think I can say that it has been eventful, energizing and to a certain extent encouraging," said Suu Kyi, who was detained most of the past two decades by Myanmar's former military government.

The international community's hopes were not high after the country carefully orchestrated the Nov. 7, 2010, election. As expected, the polls brought to power a proxy party for the military, which ran the country since a 1962 coup.

But that perception has changed in recent months, as the new government eased censorship, legalized labor unions, suspended an unpopular, China-backed dam project and began talks with Suu Kyi's pro-democracy movement.

She said she believed Thein Sein was committed to reforms. He was prime minister under the long-ruling military junta and has been considered a moderate.

"I personally believe that he is very genuine in his desire for the process of democratization," Suu Kyi said.

There are still key issues to be addressed, however. Suu Kyi on Monday mentioned the plight of both political prisoners and ethnic minorities as well as the need for rule of law and an independent judiciary in the country.

"An issue of great importance to all of us who are working for democracy in Burma is that of political prisoners. Some had been released over the last year, but there are still many who remain in prison," Suu Kyi said, using the name for the country that the pro-democracy movement prefers.

She said she had no news about wide speculation that the government would announce the release of more political prisoners Monday.

"We do not have any specific information on who has been released if anybody has been released at all," she said.

A government-appointed human rights body on Sunday urged the president to release political prisoners or transfer them to prisons close to their families, signaling such action may be imminent.

Myanmar's three state-owned newspapers published the open letter from National Human Rights Commission chairman Win Mra calling for an amnesty "as a reflection of magnanimity," or to transfer political prisoners in remote prisons to facilities with easy access for their family members.

The letter's publication is significant because the tightly controlled newspapers closely reflect government positions. An amnesty of 6,359 prisoners in October happened the same day state-run newspapers published a similar appeal.

A prisoner release in the next few days is also anticipated because a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations begins Thursday in Bali, Indonesia. Myanmar is seeking to chair ASEAN in 2014, and the release of political prisoners would be seen as a positive development favoring its bid, which is likely to be decided at this week's summit.

No release had been announced by mid-afternoon Monday.

Myanmar is estimated to hold as many as 2,000 political prisoners.