By John Zaw
Burma’s (Myanmar) recent reforms show a “positive change” but substantial challenges lie ahead for the government, a prominent policy advocate and former political prisoner said yesterday at a press conference in Bangkok.
“We can’t build change overnight as the country still faces problems with intense fighting in Kachin state, hundreds of thousands of displaced people [in eastern Myanmar] and land confiscation issues,” Dr. Khin Zaw Win told reporters at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand.
“The country is culturally diverse and the ethnic issue needs to be addressed.”
Khin Zaw Win applauded progress towards reform by the government’s nominally civilian government, which has seen the re-entry into public political life of Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party but said much more still needs to be done.
“We have to be proactive and extend our opportunities we have under the new civilian government instead of waiting for and asking for authorities to give us the chances,” he told ucanews.com.
The former political activist, who spent more than a decade in prison, said the international community is watching developments in Myanmar closely, and has responded positively to visible progress.
But the government still needs to show it is serious about greater transparency, peace in the ethnic areas and in particular the release of all remaining political prisoners.
A statement by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ Inter Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) issued during the ASEAN Summit in Cambodia in April conveyed a similar message.
It said “reformers in the government will need the continued support and backing of the international community and ASEAN to ensure that Myanmar’s transition to democracy will be both enduring and peaceful.”
Son Chhay, a Cambodian parliamentarian and vice president of the AIPMC, said during the summit that the rule of law was paramount in Myanmar’s shift to a more open and free society, and that the role of the military must be minimized.
“As we have seen across the region, we cannot always rely on individuals no matter how well meaning they may seem. We have to have the laws that protect us, as people can be changed and turned by power,” he said.
“When you change to a new political system, there will necessarily be many legal loopholes, and these holes must be plugged as quickly as possible. You must strengthen the systems and you have to neutralize the power of the army.”
Fresh tensions in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where 62 people have died in sectarian clashes since May 28, according to a state official, have raised fresh concerns about the military’s influence on the civilian government.
Emergency rule by the military has been in place in Rakhine state since last week to quell the violence and restore order.
But other signs have inspired some measure of confidence that the government intends to move ahead with reforms.
Industry Minister Soe Thane told AFP during a trip to Oslo last week that President Thein Sein plans to release all remaining political prisoners in the country next month.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which advocates on behalf of Myanmar’s political prisoners, estimated in their latest report that 471 prisoners of conscience remain behind bars and another 465 are under review by the group.