Clinton, Suu Kyi discuss Burma’s road to democracy

December 2, 2011

— Hillary Rodham Clinton visited the home of Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday for a meeting that was both personal and formal as two of the world’s most famous female political figures discussed the sudden signs of reform in Burma.

The meeting between the U.S. secretary of state and the leader of Burma’s long-persecuted pro-democracy movement — unthinkable just three months ago — was yet another sign of the incredible change afoot in Burma.

“If we go forward together, I’m confident there will be no turning back from the road to democracy,” Suu Kyi told reporters afterward in a news conference, a rare occurrence for the Nobel Peace laureate, who has spent much of the past two decades under house arrest ordered by Burma’s military-controlled government. “We are not on that road yet, but we hope to get there as soon as possible with our friends.”

Both Clinton and Suu Kyi said more progress is needed to be made by Burma’s President Thein Sein and his government for true reform to take hold. And Suu Kyi emphasized the need for rule of law, calling on the government not only to release all remaining political prisoners but also to change its policies to prevent human rights violations.

Clinton — the first senior U.S. official in half a century to visit Burma, also known as Myanmar — called Suu Kyi “an inspiration.” The pair had met for a private dinner the night before. On Friday, they demonstrated an obvious closeness through their statements and body language — greeting each other with a kiss on the cheek, holding hands at one point in the news conference and hesitating awkwardly at the end before bursting into laughter as they hugged each other goodbye.

The meeting took place at the home that Suu Kyi’s family has long owned — a compound where she spent years under house arrest. Suu Kyi introduced Clinton to the doctor who took care of her during that time, to her chefs and even to her guard dog, for which Clinton had brought a chew toy as a gift.

“Chew away, chew away,” Clinton told the dog.

“Keep your distance,” Suu Kyi warned. “He thinks that people who stand close to me are a threat.”

In her comments, Suu Kyi seemed to be readying herself for a return to politics, having confirmed this week that she planned to run in next year’s parliamentary elections. Her last effort, in 1990, culminated in a decisive win for her party. That victory was annulled by the military junta amid one of many crackdowns on pro-democracy leaders.

At a later news conference, Clinton said she had talked to Suu Kyi “about the ups and downs and slings and arrows of political participation . . . and the challenges that a new democracy, or a new democratic process, particularly will face because the rules are being written as you engage.”

“I think she’d be an excellent member of the new parliament,” Clinton said.

Clinton also announced $1.2 million in aid — mostly to civil society organizations that provide micro-lending and health care. And she spent part of her day meeting with leaders of Burma’s ethnic minorities, who have suffered violence and killings for years at the hands of the Burmese military.

The issue of ethnic rifts, in many ways, is the hardest problem the country will face as it tackles reform. Fighting continues between Burmese soldiers and minority groups along the country’s border regions.

The issue is complicated by the fact that some ethnic groups want autonomy from the Burmese government, while other factions are believed to be linked to the drug trade.

For years, Burmese troops have used rape as a weapon of war to control villages opposing the military-backed government — an issue Clinton noted in her comments Friday. Human rights activists along the Thailand-Burma border say they have documented 81 cases of rape since March alone, including those of a woman in her ninth month of pregnancy and a 12-year-old schoolgirl attacked in front of her mother.

by William Wan

RANGOON, Burma — Hillary Rodham Clinton visited the home of Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday for a meeting that was both personal and formal as two of the world’s most famous female political figures discussed the sudden signs of reforms in Burma.

The meeting between the U.S. secretary of state and the leader of Burma’s long-persecuted democracy movement — unthinkable just three months ago — was yet another sign of the incredible changes afoot in Burma.

“If we go forward together I’m confident there will be no turning back from the road to democracy,” Suu Kyi told reporters afterward in a news conference, a rare occurrence for the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who has spent much of the past two decades under house arrest ordered by Burma’s military-controlled government. “We are not on that road yet, but we hope to get there as soon as possible with our friends.”

Both Clinton and Suu Kyi said that more progress needed to be made by Burma’s President Thein Sein and his government for true reform to take hold. And Suu Kyi emphasized the need for rule of law, calling on the government not only to release all remaining political prisoners but to change its policies to prevent such human rights violations in the future.

Clinton — the first senior U.S. official in half a century to visit Burma, also known as Myanmar — called Suu Kyi “an inspiration.” The pair had met for a private dinner the night before, and on Friday, they demonstrated an obvious closeness through their statements and body language — greeting each other with a kiss on the cheek, holding hands at one point in the news conference and hesitating awkwardly at the end before bursting into laughter as they hugged each other goodbye.

The meeting took place at the home that Suu Kyi’s family has long owned — a compound where she spent years under house arrest. Suu Kyi introduced Clinton to the doctor who took care of her during that time, to her chefs and even her guard dog, for whom Clinton had brought a chew toy gift.

“Chew away, chew away,”Clinton told the dog.

“Keep your distance,” Suu Kyi warned. “He thinks that people who stand close to me are a threat.”

In her comments, Suu Kyi seemed to be readying herself for her return to politics, having confirmed this week that she planned to run in next year’s parliamentary elections. Her last effort, in 1990, culminated in a decisive win for her party. That victory was annulled by the military junta amid one of many crackdowns on democracy leaders.

At a later news conference, Clinton said she had talked to Suu Kyi “about the ups and downs and slings and arrows of political participation, and the challenges that a new democracy particularly will face because the rules are being written as you engage.”

“I think she’d be an excellent member of new parliament,” Clinton said.

Clinton also announced $1.2 million in new aid — mostly to civil society organizations that provide microlending and health care. And she spent part of her day meeting with leaders of Burma’s ethnic minorities, who have suffered violence and killings for years at the hands of the Burmese military.

The issue of ethnic rifts, in many ways, is the hardest problem the country will face as it tackles reforms. Fighting continues between Burmese soldiers and minority groups along much of the country’s border regions.

The issue is complicated by the fact that some of ethnic groups want autonomy from the Burmese government, while other factions are believed to be linked to the drug trade.

For years, Burmese troops have used rape as weapon of war to control villages opposing the military-backed government — an issue Clinton noted in her comments Friday. Human rights activists along the Thailand-Burma border say they have documented 81 cases of rape since March alone, including those of a woman in her ninth month of pregnancy and a 12-year-old schoolgirl, raped in front of her mother.

William Wan is The Post’s China correspondent based in Beijing. He served previously as a religion reporter and diplomatic correspondent.
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