WASHINGTON—In his address to the UN General Assembly in New York on Thursday morning, Burma’s President Thein Sein congratulated opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi for the honors she has received in the United States, and asked the international community for patience, saying the process of democratic transformation underway in his country will be a complex and delicate one.
He also touched upon resolving the country’s ongoing ethnic conflicts, and said that his administration was dealing with the crisis in Arakan State and would endeavour to resolve the issue in line with international norms.
Later in the day, at his first ever public appearance in the US, he said that Suu Kyi is playing a significant role in the ongoing reform process. It is understood that the two Burmese leaders met quietly in New York on Tuesday.
In his 15-minute address to the UN General Assembly, Thein Sein said that former political prisoner Suu Kyi is now participating in the Parliament, not only in her capacity as an MP, but also as chairperson of the Rule of Law and Stability Committee.
“As a Myanmar [Burmese] citizen, I would like to congratulate her for the honors she has received in this country in recognition of her efforts for democracy,” he said in an apparent reference to the number of awards she has received during her current US trip, including the Congressional Gold Medal—the highest civilian award given by the US Congress.
Describing Suu Kyi as a “good colleague” in undertaking the reform process, Thein Sein said the Nobel laureate is committed to do whatever she can in order to make the reform process complete. Thein Sein said he hoped that Suu Kyi would continue to provide the necessary support to the reform process.
Suu Kyi, likewise, has spoken highly of Thein Sein’s leadership and his commitment to the peace process and reform during her trip.
“Myanmar’s democratic transformation will be a complex and delicate one that requires patience,” Thein Sein said. He delivered his address in Burmese which was simultaneously interpreted.
“To complete this process, we certainly need the understanding and support from the United Nations and its member states, the international community as a whole and, last but not the least, the people of Myanmar,” he said. “It is also necessary for us to be able to work in a more conducive and favorable environment than ever before,” Thein Sein told the 67th annual session of the UN General Assembly.
In the presence of a galaxy of world leaders, Thein Sein said it is equally important that Burma should be viewed from a new and different perspective. “It is also necessary for us to be able to work in a more conducive and favorable environment than ever before,” he said.
As a result of the reforms, he stressed, political progress is enhancing his government’s political legitimacy. This, in turn facilitates the creation of basic political stability thereby paving the way for economic and social transformation necessary for better living standards for the people, he said.
Burma is making progress on her democratic path, but this has not been an easy task, he said. “Within a short time, the people of Myanmar have been able to bring about amazing changes,” he said.
In his address to the world body, Thein Sein touched upon several other issues affecting his country, including ethnic conflicts and ongoing communal violence. Burma, under his leadership, is working hard to bring an end to longstanding conflicts in its ethnic regions, with ceasefires having been agreed to with 10 armed groups, he said.
Peace talks would continue along with the strengthening of confidence-building measures, aimed at a lasting peace agreement. In the north, the leaders of the Government Peace Work Committee and the Kachin armed groups were following such a process to prevent further loss of life and property. In addition, a national-level, independent commission had been established to investigate the recent communal violence in Arakan State and to report to him, he said.
Thein Sein affirmed that all inhabitants of Burma, regardless of race, religion and gender, had the right to live in peace and security and that the commission would include respected representatives from not only all strata of society but also from the Buddhist, Muslim, Christian and Hindu faiths.
Field visits to Arakan State had been facilitated, in addition, for representatives of international organizations and foreign diplomats, and aid access had been granted to “those organizations who are willing to provide it to both the communities without discrimination.”
Solving the issue would require sustained attention on multiple levels, he said, stressing that, as a sovereign state, Burma had the right to secure its borders and to protect its sovereignty, and would do its best to resolve the issue in line with international norms.
Hours later, Thein Sein appeared at the Asia Society headquarters in New York where he addressed a jam-packed auditorium. The president was joined by several of his cabinet colleagues on the stage for a question and answer session. He assured the audience that the democratic reforms in Burma are irreversible.
“I don’t think there will be any reversal in the political transition. The entire population—some 60 million people—also want a democratic system. So long as there is stability and rule of law, and also economic growth, I don’t think there will be any reversal,” said the Burmese president.
“In order for Myanmar to become a viable democracy, we will have to revive the democratic culture. We will have to try to meet the democratic standard that has been set internationally. We will have to accept diversity, and then we will also have to try to establish a harmonious society,” he said.
“After taking office about 18 months ago, the Parliament, the Judiciary, the Armed forces, the national races, political parties, civil societies and the people at large have been taking tangible irreversible steps in the democratic transition and reform process,” he said.
“Leaving behind a system of authoritarian government wherein the administrative, legislative and judicial powers were centralized, we have now been able to put in place a democratic government and a strong, viable parliament following a practice of checks and balances,” he said.
Despite the challenges, the country is now witnessing encouraging progress and significant development, he said, adding that his government and other stakeholders have now been able to foster a new political culture of patience and dialogue.