Extending a hand to Myanmar
Westerwelle with Aung San Suu Kyi in her house in Rangoon
© Photothek / Trutschel
Guido Westerwelle is the first German Foreign Minister to visit Myanmar. While in the country, which for many years was ruled by a military junta, he met opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi as well as the President and Foreign Minister. Germany’s policy in relation to Myanmar was to “extend a hand”, said Westerwelle. On the one hand, it was expected that the process of reform would be continued, and on the other, the political leadership was expressly encouraged to take further steps towards democracy.
First Westerwelle met Aung San Suu Kyi – in her house in Rangoon, where she spent a total of 15 years under house arrest – who informed him about the current status of the reform process in Myanmar.
Reform process not “irreversible”
They both expressed the view that the reform process in the South-East Asian country was not yet “irreversible”. Germany wanted “to support sustainable reform towards democracy, freedom and the rule of law”, Westerwelle said. “We know that these things are not yet secure.” Aung San Suu Kyi said that, although there had been important changes, some of those in positions of power in the country were still clinging intently to the old ways.
Myanmar, previously called Burma, was ruled by a military junta for 23 years. Since last year, the Government under President Thein Sein has been pursuing a cautious path of greater openness and political reform. Back in 1990 Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD (National League for Democracy) won a landslide victory in free parliamentary elections. The military regime, however, refused to recognize the result. In the years that followed, Aung San Suu Kyi was subjected to long periods of house arrest; many other members of the opposition were also persecuted.
Admiration for the Nobel laureate
Westerwelle with monks in the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon
© Photothek / Trutschel
“Germany stands ready to support the people of your country,” Westerwelle assured Aung San Suu Kyi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights. At the same time, the Minister made clear his great admiration for her work: “Your efforts towards freedom, human rights and peaceful reform are admired all around the world, and particularly in Germany.” She was warmly welcome to visit Germany at any time, Westerwelle indicated.
Since Myanmar’s electoral laws were amended in January 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD has again been recognized as a party. At a by-election on 1 April, it won 43 out of a total of 45 seats in parliament.
Foreign Minister Westerwelle’s visit took place just a few days after the European Union temporarily suspended its sanctions against Myanmar, with the exception of the weapons embargo. This suspension is designed to show appreciation of the reforms initiated by Thein Sein and to encourage the country’s leaders to take further steps towards democracy. Aung San Suu Kyi said this gradual approach was important.
“Democracy dividend” for the people
Foreign Minister Westerwelle meets President Thein Sein in Myanmar
© Copyright: Photothek / Trutschel
While in Rangoon, Westerwelle met further representatives of the opposition and civil society. On 30 April he travelled on to the capital, Nay Pyi Taw, where he held talks with President Thein Sein and Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin.
Westerwelle said he had the impression that the President was serious about reform. It was right to have a certain amount of trust, the Minister went on, “even while reserve and consideration are called for”.
Westerwelle went on to announce further support for development in Myanmar, saying it was now crucial that the policy of reform bring economic benefits for the people. In addition to the six million euros agreed in February, the Federal Government would now make available a further ten million euros for development cooperation. “If there is a tangible democracy dividend for the people, then the moves towards democracy will become more stable,” Westerwelle said.
Nay Pyi Taw (“seat of kings”) is a young city in upper Myanmar, construction only having started in 2002. The seat of government was moved from the port city of Rangoon to the new capital in November 2005. The country’s parliament is also in Nay Pyi Taw. Foreign Minister Westerwelle is not the only politician to have visited Myanmar lately: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and EU High Representative Catherine Ashton have also had talks with President Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi in recent days. On 28 April Ashton opened an EU Liaison Office in Rangoon.
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Last updated 30.04.2012