Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi said at a press conference on Monday that the end of Western economic sanctions depends on the degree of political and human rights progress the country’s quasi-civilian government makes.
She said that the foreign nations which have imposed sanctions, including the US and the EU bloc, must view significant progress before they are lifted.
Suu Kyi’s press conference, held at the headquarters of her National League for Democracy (NLD) in Rangoon, marked the one-year anniversary of her release from house arrest. Her remarks made clear that Burma has yet to reach the stage that its people are confident that the country is on the path to true democracy.
“There has been some progress within the past year, but not enough yet,” she said. “A crucial issue is the rule of law, without which we cannot make progress in the issues of human rights, the release of political prisoners, domestic peace efforts or social and economic development in our country.”
She also called for a clean government and a fair judiciary to found a democratic nation, stressing that in the continued absence of the rule of law, Burma will not be able to attract foreign investment.
But she also reaffirmed her optimism about developments under Burma’s new government—which took office through a heavily-rigged election in Nov. 2010—and urged the country's public to be realistic under the changing circumstances.
“We need optimistic views and ideas. We have to change our views at a point when they need to change. Based on our beliefs, we also have to take risks at the appropriate time,” she said, hinting at the growing possibility that the NLD may re-register under the recently amended Political Parties Registration Law and she may run in the coming parliamentary by-elections.
At the press conference, however, Suu Kyi did not make any public announcement or state her opinion about whether the NLD should re-register and contest the parliamentary elections.
Suu Kyi also appealed to members of the Burmese military for solidarity with the public and asked both to work together towards the goal of establishing democracy in Burma.
“All the army members are also the country's citizens. So are all of us. If all of us are the same public, then I wish to ask why we can't work together. We must be able to do,” she said.
Her comments highlighted the important role of the army in the country, which had been ruled by successive military dictatorships since 1962, when the military took power from a democratically-elected government in a coup, until the previous regime handed over power to the current nominally-civilian government headed mostly by former military generals.
Under Burma’s Constitution, the military controls a quarter of the seats in the national Parliament and also wields substantial influence through the National Defense and Security Council, a body that is assumed to make the final decisions regarding the most important aspects of governing the country.
Regarding Burma’s unresolved ethnic conflicts, Suu Kyi said that both the country's rulers and the ethnic leaders need to restore confidence in each other.
The pro-democracy leader also called for the release of the country’s remaining political prisoners and noted the discrepancy between the number of political prisoners listed by the NLD and the number claimed by the state-backed Human Rights Commission.
On Sunday, the Human Rights Commission sent an open letter to President Thein Sein praising the government for its release last month of about 200 of what they said is the 500 political prisoners in the country, and calling for a further release of prisoners.
Suu Kyi, however, said the list of political prisoners gathered by the NLD is longer than 500 persons, and it will look into the matter.