By Zin Linn
The ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) today released an immediate press statement welcoming U.S. President Barack Obama’s plans to visit Rangoon next week. Nevertheless, the caucus urged the President to make use of his visit pressing on key demands and raise human rights concerns with the Burmese government.
The statement says that Washington is a dynamic force to open the engagement chapter with Nay Pyi Taw. It takes art as a key supporter in the reform process in Burma. Washington has eased sanctions, appointed its first ambassador in 22 years, and opened a USAID mission in Burma. These ‘rewards’ have offered regarding the reforms initiated by the Thein Sein government. But there is also consideration of Washington’s ‘Asian pivot’ and the United States’ bid to reassert itself in the Asia Pacific region, AIPMC said.
According to Jim Kuhnhenn of Associated Press, the Obama administration regards the political changes in Myanmar (Burma) as possibly diluting the influence of China in a country that has a strategic location between South Asia and Southeast Asia, regions of growing economic importance.
But exiled Myanmar activists and human rights groups are likely to criticize an Obama visit as premature and one that rewards Thein Sein before his political and economic reforms have been consolidated. The military is still dominant and implicated in rights abuses. It has failed to prevent vicious outbreaks of communal violence in the west of the country that have left scores dead.
While in Burma, Obama will meet with President Thein Sein and also with Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the White House said.
AIPMC expects that the key objectives of Obama’s visit should be to improve human rights and democracy. The visit should not only be seen as adding further legitimacy to the government of President Thein Sein, rather than its efforts to perform key reform measures.
“Yes, the situation is complicated; there are concerns that pushing the Thein Sein government to move too quickly with reform measures could provoke a backlash from military hardliners; and it is commendable that President Obama has embarked on this trip in an effort to ensure the reform process does not backslide, but it is also important that fundamental ideals are not surrendered in the drive for economic and political gains,” Eva Kusuma Sundari, AIPMC President and Indonesian Member of Parliament, said.
“We should all be expecting concrete commitments and deliverable achievements from President Obama’s visit. We are hopeful that this first ever visit to Myanmar by a US president can offer a real boost to the reformers in the government and help them persevere with this difficult transition,” she added.
The caucus also urges in its press statement that major achievements of this visit needs to include the release of remaining political prisoners; it is notable that, according to civil society groups, there were no political detainees among the 452 prisoners released yesterday in a government amnesty.
AIPMC also encourages Obama to work towards securing a commitment from Nay-Pyi-Taw to enter into political dialogue with non-state armed groups and allowing further humanitarian access to Rakhine and Kachin states, as well as agreement to allow the U.N. AIPMC also recommends setting up of an office for High Commissioner for Refugees in Burma.
According to Son Chhay, AIPMC Vice President and Cambodian Member of Parliament, land grabbing and human rights abuses are on the rise as a result of the new investments coming into Burma. There is little transparency and ordinary citizens have no access to equalize through the legal system.
“Like in Cambodia, there is no truly independent judiciary or police force – without these you cannot have the rule of law,” Son Chhay said.
Son Chhay also says via statement that during this visit, Obama gets a chance to see the realities of an impoverished country moving at a snail’s pace in the course of harsh dictatorship while concurrently struggling to go through the forces of global capitalism and an influx of international aid and development loans.
“Hopefully he will be able to see enough to be persuaded to revise his understanding of the wider situation and identify properly what the country’s pressing needs really are, and the best way to support this reform process,” he said.