The United States Secretary of State John Kerry called on Burma’s leaders to move ahead with reforms as he concluded his two-day visit to the country.
In a press conference on Sunday in Naypyidaw, Kerry raised concerns that the reform process still had a long way to go.
He noted the lack of media freedom, ongoing ethnic wars, communal violence in Arakan State, and land rights issues that continue to mar the transition period, and that have caused some in Washington to suggest Burma is backsliding on reforms.
“The serious crises in Rakhine [Arakan] State and elsewhere, profound development challenges to raise the country’s standard of living, ethnic and religious violence that still exists, fundamental questions regarding constitutional reform, and of course the role of the military, all of these remain significant challenges on the road ahead,” he said.
Kerry went on to say that the people of Burma have continued to struggle for a free and fair democratic society.
“The Burmese people have made a very clear statement about their desire to build a democratic, peaceful, and economically vibrant country. And many have struggled and sacrificed in order to reach this stage. But I do want to emphasise, despite the progress, there is still obviously a lot of work yet to be done, and the leaders I met with acknowledge that.”
In the Presidential Palace on Saturday, Thein Sein assured Kerry that Burma is not backsliding on reforms. At a press conference outside the meeting, newly appointed Minister for Information Ye Htut relayed the president’s message.
“In the meeting, the president pledged that there will be no backtracking with the reforms being carried out in Burma. It will only move forward. He also stated that cooperation from the international community including the United States is necessary for this,” he said.
At the meeting, Ye Htut said the two discussed stepping up bilateral relations, an increase in technical support to Burma, and trade and investments, as well as human rights issues and media freedom.
Kerry was in town, in part, to attend the ASEAN Regional Forum and meeting of foreign ministers of ASEAN in the Burmese capital, where he underscored an American-backed South China Sea initiative.
To round up his trip, Kerry visited Burma’s opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi at her home in Rangoon on Sunday evening.
Kerry said Burma could still count on the US’s help during it’s transition to democracy, but his message was clear: Burma must speed up reforms.