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Burma On The Path To Reform, But Obstacles Remain

Burmese President Thein Sein walks alongside U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her recent visit to Burma. (file)

The continued detention of more than 1,000 prisoners of conscience remains a major concern.

The government of Burma has taken several steps toward government reform and becoming a more open nation. Controls on foreign media have been relaxed. Parliament has approved legislation to protect freedom of assembly and the National League for Democracy was allowed to re-form as a political party with an eye toward taking part in legislative by-elections set for April 1. Suspension of a controversial dam project on the Irrawaddy River opposed by area residents and environmentalists likewise is a hopeful sign that greater political space is developing.

The United States has responded to Burma’s positive steps with plans for greater engagement with Burma. Plans are being developed to increase aid for civil society programs to support microcredit and health programs. Our two nations will resume cooperating on counternarcotic programs and operations to recover missing military personnel from World War II.

But the continued detention of more than 1,000 prisoners of conscience, many of them journalists, monks and activists who led anti-government protests in 2007, remains a major concern of the United States. So too is the violence and reported human rights abuses in Burma’s ethnic minority areas such as Kachin State.

We call on Burmese leaders to fulfill their promises of amnesty by immediately and unconditionally releasing all political prisoners. The United States also continues to call at the highest levels for an immediate halt to hostilities and an inclusive dialogue with ethnic minority groups toward genuine national reconciliation.

If the government of Burma keeps moving in the right direction, the United States is prepared to be a partner in the reform process.