Madeleine Albright Applauds Burma’s ‘Long Overdue’ Reform

Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright speaks at Rangoon University’s Diamond Jubilee Hall on Tuesday. (Photo: Steve Tickner / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who is in Burma for the first time since 1995, on Tuesday congratulated the country’s move toward democracy and urged its leaders to stem religious and ethnic intolerance.

“Yours is not only a beautiful country, but also a hopeful one—full of energy, committed to reform, and preparing to resume its rightful place in the community of nations,” Albright said during public remarks at Rangoon University’s Diamond Jubilee Hall.

“For what you have done in the past to help your country move from despotism into a new era of hope, I congratulate you. For what you are doing now and will do in the future to create a robust and durable democracy, I applaud you,” she added.

Albright recalled back to her last visit in 1995, when she said the country was a place of fear, intimidation and economic stagnation, at a time when other countries in the region were moving forward. She noted the contrast with the Burma she returned to last week.

She praised the country’s reform process, including the appointment of a new president, the release of many political prisoners, a reduction in censorship, last year’s parliamentary by-elections and the planned general elections in 2015.

“The changes that have taken place are long overdue, but also necessary and important,” she said. “The most important, and often the hardest, is the need for patience. A successful democracy is not possible without trust between the Parliament and president, among different political parties, and between the people and governing institutions, including the military.”

Albright also addressed the recent communal violence in the country, describing the unrest as “disturbing incidents.”

“This kind of abuse against any group based on religion or ethnicity is unacceptable. The people responsible must be prosecuted. Vulnerable populations must be kept safe,” Albright said.

She said the leaders of every party and faction should endeavor to avert any religious- or ethnically based strife, which over the last year has seen religious buildings, schools and homes torched, and more than 150,000 people displaced.

“In emphasizing these issues, my desire is not to criticize your country but to encourage your democracy to grow,” she added.

Albright is the current chairwoman of the National Democratic Institute (NDI), an organization created by the US government to promote democracy in developing countries.

In her five-day visit to Burma, she met with Burmese political parties, ethnic leaders and civil society organizations in Rangoon to discuss the country’s political environment and ongoing reform process. She met with opposition leader and pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi in Naypyidaw as well.

The state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported that Albright also met Burma’s Vice President Nyan Tun, Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Thant Kyaw, and Deputy Minister at the President’s Office Aung Thein in Naypyidaw, where she reportedly held talks to boost ties between the United States and Burma. NDI has pledged to assist Burma in its democratic transition.

She also met Tin Aye, chairman of the Union Election Commission, with their discussion focusing on procedural matters as Burma gears up to hold elections in 2015.

Albright, the first women to become a US secretary of state, was part of a US diplomatic contingent that once delivered tough talk to Burma’s generals, warning that the country would face continued isolation if the leaders of the military junta did not take steps toward greater political freedom and democracy.

She met in 1995 with military intelligence leader Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt and other government officials, as well as Suu Kyi.

6 Responses to Madeleine Albright Applauds Burma’s ‘Long Overdue’ Reform

  1. Has she forgotten Khin Nyunt? Hi, Hi

  2. Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.
    What is needed is a transfer of power ,and that comes about from revolution – not reform!

  3. I’d like to dig what she’d said about the military leaders of SLORC when she visited Myanmar in 1995; she said that – under the current leadership – desperately poor, a country still powered primarily by oxen.
    Besides, at her press conference, before her departure, she told the press, “I said Burmese leaders could begin to move down the democratic path, and thereby reduce their isolation, or continue on the path of repression and ultimately ruin both themselves and their country.”
    (Albright, Madeleine. 2003. Madam Secretary – A Memoir. Miramax Books, New York. Pp. 200 – 201)

    I agree with her reminder to have patient and to build trust are most essential things if Myanmar is to succeed in this transition.

  4. Burma will do just fine, Madeleine. Go back to America and help fix the political process there. The President, and his corrupt cronies, have bastardized the US political process. Burma knows it has a problem, and is attempting to fix it. The US is just beginning to discover that it has a problem. The US needs your help probably more than you will ever realize.

  5. It’s like a social worker telling the battered wife that her sadist, pathologically violent husband have changed and she should be on her way to ‘happily ever after life’ but in fact her husband had been issued a restraint order. Political prisoners released have no way of getting back the lives they have lost. Parents who have lost their children are still waiting for some kind of closure. Farmers are yet to either get back their lands stolen by the military and their cronies. It’s the American money that is changing and not the political situation in Burma. The changes are the colours that you received on the TV sets in Burma – they are not just green and yellow as they were before.

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