By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said on Wednesday it was too early to declare democratic reforms brought in after five decades of military rule were irreversible and played down talk of accepting a cabinet seat.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) will contest 48 by-elections in April that could give political credibility to the isolated southeast Asian state and help speed the end of Western sanctions.
Last March the former military junta made way for a nominally civilian government that embarked on a major reform drive, freeing hundreds of political prisoners, loosening media controls and engaging with Suu Kyi, the 66-year-old leader of Myanmar's pro-democracy movement.
"Some are a little bit too optimistic about the situation. We are cautiously optimistic. We are at the beginning of a road," said Suu Kyi, speaking to an audience of students at Ottawa's Carleton University via a video link.
"Ultimate power still rests with the army so until we have the army solidly behind the process of democratization we cannot say that we have got to a point where there will be no danger of a U-turn. Many people are beginning to say that the democratization process here is irreversible. It's not so," she added.
Suu Kyi cited 1990 elections that her party won by a landslide. The junta ignored the result and Suu Kyi - already under house arrest - remained locked up for 15 of the next 22 years.
Western investors are interested in the former Burma, an underdeveloped country of 60 million people with rich energy, metals and timber resources.
Suu Kyi backs sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union on the grounds they pressured Myanmar's rulers to make concessions. Talk of removing the punitive measures should wait until after the elections, she indicated.
"We must wait until after the elections to find out whether or not there have been real changes. And depending on these changes, there should be suitable changes in policy," she said.
Suu Kyi, the daughter of assassinated independence hero General Aung San, looks set to easily to win a seat in the national assembly in April. Many in the nation speculate she might accept a government post, possibly even a cabinet job.
"Since the offer has not been made I think it would be premature and rather presumptuous to make an answer to that," she said when asked about joining the cabinet.
"I can tell you one thing - that under the present constitution, if you become a member of the government you have to vacate your seat in the national assembly. And I am not working so hard to get into parliament simply to vacate my seat," she said.
Even if the NLD wins all the by-elections, it will be dwarfed by other parties in the 1,158-seat legislature.
"We do have many allies among the ethnic nationality parties and we are confident that we will gain more allies as we go along," said Suu Kyi.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Eric Beech)