US Looks to India, Burma for Key to Region

By Lalit K Jha 25 September 2012

WASHINGTON—As Burmese President Thein Sein left his country on what is being billed as a “historic” visit to the United States, a top Obama administration official on Monday said the US needs to partner with India to unlock the vast potential emerging out of the region.

“The development of trade and transit links between Southeast and East Asia has been hindered for decades by poor regional infrastructure connectivity, the isolation of the Burmese government, and political mistrust between India and its neighbors,” the Under-Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy and Environment, Robert Hormats, said in his address to the India Investment Forum in New York.

“However, Burma’s recent political and economic reforms along with continuing efforts by India and Bangladesh to improve bilateral relations have generated new opportunities to promote US and Indian business interests and regional economic development. Given the vast potential, we should look to partner in this emerging region,” Hormats said.

It is understood that India and the US have regularly been consulting each other on their respective Burma policies.

Meanwhile, Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi continues with her US visit by spending the day in Louisville, Kentucky. In her remarks followed by a question and answer session in the University of Louisville, Suu Kyi urged Americans to keep an eye on Burma, to find out what’s going on, and to view things with what she called “cautious optimism.”

“You must be very careful with what you accept as genuine progress and genuine moves to a true democratization,” she said according, to a university statement.

“A genuine democracy depends on the people feeling that they are part of the process of government, and to get there, we still have a lot to do,” Suu Kyi said. Reiterating her call for the lifting of sanctions, Suu Kyi said it is time people start carrying on this process of democratization.

“Sanctions have been a great help to us … but I know that there are still human rights violations in Burma. There are human rights violations in countries all over the world … In the end, it’s we who live in the country who must make sure that these violations come to an end,” she said.

In New York, the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) said that its secretary-general, Prof. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, would address the Contact Group of OIC on Rohingya Muslims of Burma being held on Sept. 26 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting.

“The President of the Mission, Ambassador Ufuk Gokcen, the Permanent Representative of the OIC in New York, will also present a briefing on the work of the mission as well as on its findings,” a media release said.

The mission signed a memorandum of cooperation with the Department of Border Affairs in Burma on Sept. 11 for the implementation of a humanitarian program that benefits all communities living in Arakan State.

Meanwhile, in an open letter to US Senators and Congressmen, outspoken academic Dr. Habib Siddiqui urged the US Congress not to lift its ban on trade and commerce with Burma until a fundamental change takes place positively impacting the lives of those Rohingya and other minorities, guaranteeing their citizenship as equals and rights and privileges restored and secured.

In Washington, rights activist activists held a demonstration in front of the Burmese embassy to protest against the alleged human rights violations of the Rohingya Muslim minority group.

“Rohingyas have been persecuted for decades in Burma. They have been killed, raped, falsely imprisoned and forced to leave their homes. There are over 100,000 people who are homeless and helpless,” Amnesty International alleged in a statement. “The Rohingya minority are being persecuted in their own country, and we are demanding that some action be taken to stop this ethnic cleansing. The United Nations has said that the Rohingya minority in Burma is considered one of the most persecuted in the world.”