PAUL J. MOONEY

Freelance Journalist

November 5th, 2014

MYANMAR'S SUU KYI SAYS REFORMS STALLED, WEST TOO OPTIMISTIC

BY PAUL MOONEY IN YANGON

(Reuters) - Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said on Wednesday political reforms had been stalled for months and accused the United States of being overly optimistic about the chance of progress.

The Nobel laureate's warning came a week before U.S. President Barack Obama and other leaders were due to visit the country for a regional summit.

Myanmar's military leaders moved to end the country's pariah status in 2011 by lifting restrictions on political opponents and releasing political prisoners, moves widely welcomed by Obama and the West.

But the government has failed to curb tensions between majority Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims. Rights groups have also regularly accused the military of abuses and the authorities of cracking down on the media -- at least 16 journalists have been arrested over the past year.

Myanmar's rulers have rejected the accusations.

Suu Kyi told reporters on Wednesday she believed Washington and other powers were serious about wanting reforms. But the 69-year-old democracy campaigner added: "We do think there have been times when the United States government has been overly optimistic about the reform process."

"If they really study the situation in this country they would know that this reform process started stalling early last year," she added. "In fact, I would like to challenge those who talk so much about the reform process, what significant reform steps have been taken within the last 24 months?”

An exclusive Reuters report published on Tuesday quoted officials saying Obama's administration was quietly acquiescing to the government's decision to prevent Suu Kyi from running for the presidency in next year’s election.

She is currently barred by Myanmar's military-drafted constitution which does not allow candidates with a foreign child or spouse. Suu Kyi's late husband was British, as are her two sons. 

The military's significant presence in parliament gives it veto power over any attempt to amend the constitution.

A U.S. official told Reuters the decision not to press for a change in the constitution was an attempt to balance Obama’s push for reforms with a desire to maintain influence with a government that is still led by some of the same former generals who kept Suu Kyi under house arrest for 15 years.

The official added, however, that Obama would not go easy on President Thein Sein, a former general he once praised for leading the country's transition.

The official said there would be no further easing of sanctions, no removal of names from the U.S. blacklist and no new military-to–military cooperation.