Former US President Bill Clinton on Thursday praised Burma’s “remarkable” political transition but called for an end to sectarian violence in the country, speaking at the Myanmar Peace Center in Rangoon.
Travelling to Burma with his philanthropic organisation, the Clinton Global Initiative, the former US leader met with President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi before publicly lauding the country’s reforms.
But he warned against a rise in communal clashes, which have spread throughout the country since last year, pitting Buddhists against the country’s Muslim minority.
“The whole world has been pulling for Myanmar [Burma], ever since you opened up,” Clinton told a room packed with spectators.
“The whole world cheers every piece of good news and is sick every time they read about sectarian violence. Because everywhere on Earth, people are tired of people killing each other and fighting each other over their differences.”
A tide of religious violence has overshadowed Burma’s reform programme, ripping over 140,000 people – mostly Muslims – from their homes and claiming some 200 lives.
Human rights activists say the government has failed to protect Muslims, with allegations of ethnic cleansing against the stateless Rohingya minority in western Burma. Thein Sein and Suu Kyi have both denied the allegations, insisting that violence has been perpetrated on both sides.
But Clinton insisted that although each country’s experiences are unique – Burma can learn lessons from other nations affected by sectarian conflict, including Rwanda, Bosnia and Northern Ireland.
“Some lessons are applicable to everyone,” he said.
His visit coincides with a wave of protests against the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which sent a delegation to the conflict-torn Arakan state this week in a bid to resolve communal tensions between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims.
But the visit has provoked anger among many Buddhists who say the OIC is meddling in Burma’s internal affairs.
“We are calling for action to be taken against corrupt government officials and the animals who are trying to become citizens of our country by deceitful means,” a protest organiser told DVB on Tuesday, referring to the stateless and heavily persecuted Rohingya.
Thein Sein has received international praise for introducing sweeping reforms in the former pariah state, including freeing scores of political prisoners and lifting media censorship.
“I think you’ve made a remarkable transition away from the old military government,” said Clinton. “But I think you have to keep working until every citizen feels that he or she can run for any office, participate in any debate and that you know how the government is spending the money.”
Clinton is the latest among several high-profile political leaders to lend their support to the Southeast Asian nation. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is currently visiting Rangoon, where he is due to address another event hosted by the Myanmar Peace Center on Friday.