April 30, 2012
Reposted from The New York Times
By Thomas Fuller
NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar — When he addresses Myanmar’s Parliament on Monday, Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general of the United Nations, plans to urge Western nations to lift or suspend their remaining sanctions against the country.
Mr. Ban will be the first foreigner to address the Parliament since at least the beginning of military rule in 1962. A new Constitution and moves toward political liberalization have revived the legislature, which was moribund for decades.
In his address, Mr. Ban is expected to emphasize the country’s need for international aid, at a time when Western assistance is threatened by budget cuts.
“This is a new Myanmar,” Mr. Ban told reporters on Sunday, soon after arriving in Naypyidaw, the capital that the country’s former military rulers built a decade ago.
“It’s very easy to say we will support you in political terms,” Mr. Ban said, referring to foreign governments. “But it should be followed by concrete social and economic support.”
Mr. Ban is the latest foreign dignitary to visit Myanmar in recent weeks as the country, also known as Burma, moves from military dictatorship to civilian rule and the beginnings of democracy.
Underlining what Mr. Ban called a “risky and fragile” reform process in the country, the occasion of his speech will be notable for the absence of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the country’s democracy movement.
She and other members of her party, the National League for Democracy, have refused to take the seats they recently won in the Parliament because of a dispute over the wording of the oath of office.
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has called the dispute a “technical matter” — her party objects to having to swear to safeguard the country’s current Constitution, which they want to revise, and have offered instead to promise to “respect” it, in line with a recently amended election law.
The dispute, an oddly legalistic one in a country where the rule of law is weak, threatens to slow Myanmar’s momentum toward further reconciliation between democracy advocates and the government of President Thein Sein, a former general who came to power last year with the backing of the military.
Mr. Ban deflected a question on Sunday about whether he would try to broker a compromise between Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and the president, who has been the prime mover behind the country’s reforms.
“I think there is a general approach by both sides to treat this issue with wisdom and without making this a confrontational issue,” Mr. Ban said. “I’m sure they will be able to find some good solution.”
Mr. Ban is scheduled to meet with the president on Monday and Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday.
Mr. Thein Sein has urged Western countries to drop their sanctions and has asked for increased foreign investment in the country.
Last week, the European Union suspended all its sanctions except an arms embargo. The United States has eased some of its sanctions, but some major ones remain in place, including a ban on new investment.
Mr. Ban’s visit is his first since Mr. Thein Sein took office last year; when he was last in Myanmar in 2009, the country was run by Than Shwe, a military dictator who was widely reviled by democracy advocates.
“He told me clearly, ‘Well, secretary general, if and when you come to Myanmar next time, you will see me a completely retired civilian,’ ” Mr. Ban said Sunday about their meeting in 2009, adding that the former dictator was now “keeping his promise.”
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