Myanmar's reformist president asks world to see his country in a new light

Speaking before the United Nations General Assembly, Myanmar President Thein Sein, whose reformist government has helped his country emerge from five decades of authoritarian rule, asked the international community for 'understanding and support.' 

Lucas Jackson/Reuters
Myanmar's President Thein Sein addresses the 67th United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. Headquarters in New York.

Myanmar's president on Thursday called on the world to take a fresh look at his Southeast Asian nation as it undertakes reforms, emerges from decades of authoritarianism, poverty and isolation and sheds its former pariah status.

President Thein Sein told the U.N. General Assembly that sweeping changes in Myanmar - the freeing of hundreds of political prisoners, fair by-elections, ending media censorship - have created "a new political culture of patience and dialogue."

The 67-year-old former general and former military junta member has emerged as the unlikely catalyst for a wave of reforms that were unthinkable a year ago in the former British colony also known as Burma.

"The political progress in our country is enhancing its political legitimacy. This, in turn, facilitates the creation of basic political stability, thereby paving the way for economic and social transformation necessary for (a) better living standard of the people," Thein Sein said through a translator.

Thein Sein's reformist, quasi-civilian government took office in March 2011, ending five decades of military rule in Myanmar and ushering in broad changes.

"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 least, the people of Myanmar," Thein Sein added.

He said Myanmar's political and economic reforms, as well as its efforts to wind down decades-old wars with ethnic groups, justify viewing the country in a new light.

"At the same time, it is equally important that Myanmar should be viewed from a different and new perspective," Thein Sein said.

Myanmar's changes have drawn positive responses from the United States and the European Union, who began unwinding economic sanctions that barred most trade and investment in the country and upgrading diplomatic relations.

Clinton meeting

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Thein Sein that the United States would take further steps to ease the U.S. ban on imports from Myanmar, a move that would help his government draw investment and create jobs for the country's 60 million people.

Thein Sein said that of Myanmar's 11 major ethnic conflicts, the government has signed ceasefire agreements with 10 armed groups and was committed to pursuing peace talks in the conflict with the Kachin Independence Army that erupted again in June 2011.

"We believe that cessation of all armed conflicts (is) a prerequisite for the building of genuine democracy," he said.

"We consider any loss of life and property from either side in the armed conflict as a loss for the country," he added.

Clinton's New York meeting on Wednesday with Thein Sein - their third face-to-face encounter in less than a year - came a week after she met veteran Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Washington, where the Nobel Peace laureate was awarded the highest congressional medal of honor.

Suu Kyi, who was kept under house arrest for 17 years, was released and subsequently elected to parliament in April, and has urged the United States to ease sanctions to support the reform process.

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