Burma eyes a long future with the US

The Burmese government will look to “normalise and promote” relations with the US well into the future despite harsh US condemnation yesterday of the ruling junta’s intransigence on the Burmese elections.

Senior US diplomat Kurt Campbell, who yesterday ended a two-day trip to Burma, expressed his “profound disappointment” that US engagement had reaped no rewards and offered up the possibility of “independent action” on Burma if it is found to be importing weapons from North Korea.

In a seemingly uncharacteristic reply, however, the government-mouthpiece New Light of Myanmar newspaper today carried an article calling for the promotion of “bilateral ties [with the US] not only for the short term interest, but also for the long term”.

It would appear to mark a break with successive Burmese governments’ almost pathological fear of Western meddling. To date, countries not outwardly allied to the ruling junta have been kept at arms length, but the tabling of elections this year has changed the rhetoric of the junta, which is searching for any show of legitimacy amid a sea of international criticism.

The detained head of the now-disbanded National League for Democracy (NLD) party, Aung San Suu Kyi, was allowed to leave her house-cum-prison in Rangoon on Monday to meet with Campbell. The junta was slammed by world leaders after it unveiled election laws in March that effectively forced last week’s dissolution of the NLD.

Reflecting on Suu Kyi’s meeting with Campbell, US state department spokesperson Phillip J Crowley said yesterday that the Nobel laureate had echoed Washington’s frustrations.

Suu Kyi reportedly “shared [Campbell’s] disappointment that the government was not more forthcoming, was not willing to expand political space, was not…willing to have meaningful dialogue with its ethnic groups. But she also continued to support US efforts and international efforts to engage the Burmese government.”

The head of the Committee Representing the People’s Parliament (CRPP), Aye Thar Aung, told DVB that US engagement was welcome, but remained sceptical as to its effect.

“We see that no matter how much the US representatives are trying, it is still not easy to achieve political change [in Burma] unless the government [does something] to change the opinion and the point of view of the people,” he said.

Details surrounding the elections are unclear: the government is yet to announce a date, although rumours suggest it could be in October, one month prior to Suu Kyi’s release date.

When questioned about the election date and whether international monitors would be allowed access to the country, Burma’s information minister Kyaw San told Campbell that “the matter will be decided only by the [Election] Commission”.

According to AP, the head of the Election Commission, Thein Soe, then told Campbell that: “The nation has a lot of experience with elections. We do not need election watchdogs to come here.”.

The Burmese prime minister Thein Sein last month announced that he would be heading the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which has registered for the elections and is widely expected to win. The controversial 2008 constitution awards around a quarter of parliamentary seats to the military even prior to voting.

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