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Al Jazeera English

Suu Kyi Backs US-Myanmar Engagement


A protester demands the release of Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi during a demonstration against Myanmar in front of the United Nations, in New York. The Obama administration, sketching out a new policy toward Myanmar, pledged to engage diplomatically with Yangon's military rulers in a bid to promote democratic reform there. (AFP/Jewel Samad)


San Suu Kyi, the Myanmese opposition leader, has welcomed the
announcement of a shift in US policy towards engagement with the
south-east Asian nation.

Suu Kyi's comments, released by her lawyer on Thursday, came a day
after Washington mooted a potential easing of sanctions if engagement
with Naypyidaw brings political reform.

Aung San Suu Kyi said that direct engagement is good ... but must be
with both sides [government and opposition]," Nyan Win, her lawyer,
told the AFP news agency after meeting her at her home in Yangon.

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, acknowledged that the
past US policy of isolation and punishment against Myanmar had failed
to produce desired results, and said tWashington would now engage
directly with the country's military government.

Economic sanctions

"We believe that sanctions remain important as part of our policy,
but by themselves they have not produced the results that had been
hoped for," Clinton said on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in
New York on Wednesday.

She repeated US demands that
Myanmar's rulers immediately release Suu Kyi, jailed for most of the
past 20 years, embark on credible democratic reform and engage in
dialogue with the opposition and ethnic minorities.

Clinton had raised expectations earlier this year that Washington
might be rethinking its economic sanctions against Myanmar, also known
as Burma.

But she said: "Engagement versus sanctions is a false choice, in our
opinion, so going forward we will be employing both of those tools,
pursuing our same goals."

Clinton also stressed Washington's desire to deal with country's military rulers.

"To help achieve democratic reform, we will be engaging directly with Burmese authorities," she said.

Welcoming the
US policy shift, Zaw Oo, a professor at Thailand's Chiang Mai
University, told Al Jazeera: "The sanctions are not sufficient to
promote democracy in Burma. They are becoming less effective.

'Holding to power'

"The US engagement will provide further assistance so that these
weakening civil-society elements will be re-energised and be prepared
for the eventual changes in the country.

"It might also lead [Myanmar's] armed forces to reconsider their relationship with China in strategic terms."

The ruling generals in Myanmar have announced plans to hold the
country's first election in two decades next year as part of its "road
map" to democracy.

Critics, however, say the exercise is merely an attempt to hold on
to power and lend legitimacy to nearly five decades of military rule.

The US joined the international community in condemning Myanmar's
government earlier this year for convicting Suu Kyi for allowing an
American man to intrude into her home and stay for two days.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner, who has spent 14 of the past 20 years
in jail or under house arrest, was sentenced in August to a further 18
months of house arrest, enough to keep her off the campaign trail for
next year's planned elections.


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