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Clinton says Myanmar changing but much more needed

November 11, 2011

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HONOLULU—Myanmar is making real progress toward reforms but much more needs to be done, including the release of political prisoners, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday.

A recent visit by senior U.S. diplomats found "real changes taking place on the ground," Clinton said on the sidelines of an annual Pacific Rim summit.

"It appears there are real changes taking place on the ground and we support these early efforts at reform," she told reporters. "We want to see the people of Burma able to participate fully in the political life of their own country."

Clinton said the U.S. would continue to call for release of all political prisoners, an end to conflict in minority areas and greater transparency regarding Myanmar's relations with North Korea.

At stake are political and economic sanctions the U.S. and other Western countries imposed against the junta that had ruled Myanmar until handing over power to the current elected military-backed government in March this year.

Those sanctions were imposed for the failure of Myanmar's rulers to hand over power and its poor human rights record. But the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has sought to engage the government, shifting away from the previous policy of shunning it.

The U.S. could gradually ease its sanctions against Myanmar and allow aid from multilateral lending institutions such as the World Bank, over which it has exercised a veto.

Among the changes Washington wants to see in Myanmar is the inclusion of the National League for Democracy, led by democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi, into the political system. Suu Kyi's party overwhelmingly won a 1990 general election, but the army refused to hand over power, instead repressing Suu Kyi and other activists.

The junta that previously ruled Myanmar enacted a constitution and other laws with provisions aimed at limiting Suu Kyi's political activities, fearing her influence.

U.S. special envoy to Myanmar Derek Mitchell told reporters in Yangon on Friday that the government has taken positive steps and that the U.S. side is thinking of how to actively support those reforms.