U.S. Strengthens Ties with Burma as It Continues Reforms
April 26, 2012
“Following the formation of a new government in March 2011, positive changes have emerged, ranging from the release of political prisoners to new legislation expanding the rights of political and civic association, and a nascent process toward cease-fires with several ethnic armed groups,” Campbell said in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific April 25.
“The Burmese government has engaged with the United States in candid and constructive exchanges, leading toward concrete progress on our core concerns over the past nine months,” he said, adding that in both words and actions, Burmese officials “have demonstrated increasing signs of interest in political, economic and social development and national reconciliation.”
Campbell said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has been actively involved in Burma’s reform process, as demonstrated during her historic visit to Burma in December 2011. She met with government officials, including President Thein Sein and opposition democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as a variety of civil society and ethnic minority representatives.
Following her trip, Clinton appointed Ambassador Derek Mitchell as the first U.S. special representative and policy coordinator for Burma. Mitchell has traveled to Burma on a nearly monthly basis, engaging officials in Naypyidaw and consulting with key leaders of civil society to further catalyze concrete action. The U.S. government also announced plans to exchange ambassadors with Burma as it continues to reform.
Campbell said that while much work remains, Burma has made progress in a number of key areas.
The assistant secretary commended the Burmese government’s pursuit of laws to protect the freedoms of association and assembly, as well as to eliminate all forms of forced labor by 2015.
He also welcomed the relaxation of media censorship, including eased restrictions on television and the Internet. He said the Burmese government has started to host its first press conferences and has recently provided access for foreign journalists.
The assistant secretary said Burma is also proceeding with a strong program of economic reforms, including “needed reforms related to the exchange rate, trade policy, monetary policy and fiscal policy.”
He praised the release of more than 250 political prisoners in January, and called for the release of the several hundred prisoners of conscience who remain behind bars.
Campbell said the United States has responded to reforms with a strategy of matching action for action, and will continue that policy. He said plans remain in place to continue U.S. and global support for Burma, including financial aid to alleviate poverty throughout the country, as it works to create a more democratic and peaceful future.
“There is a great store of good will within the international community to re-engage Burma, rebuild its capacity and reconnect with the Burmese people, should the reform process continue,” Campbell said. “Though the challenges that lie ahead are daunting, the efforts of the resilient and diverse people of Burma are as inspiring as ever.”