NAYPYIDAW — Burma’s high-profile new foreign minister, Aung San Suu Kyi, met her Canadian counterpart on Thursday, as dignitaries visit the country to meet the Nobel laureate.
Canadian Foreign Minister Stephane Dion congratulated Burma on installing its first civilian government in decades and on its transition from military rule to democracy.
“It’s always difficult to build a strong democracy,” Dion said at a joint news conference at Burma’s Presidential Palace in the capital, Naypyidaw. “Burma needs to succeed. It’s important for your country and it’s important for the world.”
Suu Kyi said Dion had offered to help efforts to end longstanding armed insurgencies against the Burmese-majority government by minority groups demanding autonomy and control over their natural resources in the north, northeast and east of the country.
Many ethnic armies have been fighting since the country gained independence from the British in 1948, and experts say continued civil unrest is slowing development in one of the region’s poorest countries.
“I think, particularly, Canada is anxious to help us in the peace process. And this is the kind of assistance that we very much welcome,” Suu Kyi told a news conference. “And we would appreciate everything that our friends can do to assist us in our efforts to make this country one that has built unity out of diversity.”
Suu Kyi also hosted the foreign ministers of China and Italy earlier this week.
In November, the country held its first free election in decades, which Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party won by a landslide.
Suu Kyi, the country’s most popular politician, is barred by a junta-era Constitution from becoming president because her sons are British citizens, as was her late husband.
She picked her close ally, Htin Kyaw, to become Burma’s president and lead the government that took office last week.
In its first legislative act, Parliament created a new post for Suu Kyi as “state counselor” on Tuesday, giving her powers similar to those of a prime minister. The move allows Suu Kyi to have a powerful hand in running Burma and helps her circumvent the Constitution’s ban.
In addition to foreign minister, Suu Kyi also heads the President’s Office.
This week’s meetings have put Suu Kyi in the spotlight, with President Htin Kyaw playing a supporting role.