(Mizzima) – British Prime Minister David Cameron signaled that he is behind the easing of Burmese sanctions in light of dramatic democratic reforms, as he arrived on Friday to meet with the president and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Speaking at the airport in Naypyitaw, the capital, Cameron said Burma is a country that matters.
“For decades it has suffered under a brutal dictatorship it is also desperately poor. It doesn’t have to be this way,” he said. “There is a government now that says it is committed to reform, that has started to take steps, and I think it is right to encourage those steps.” However, he stressed that Britain should not be under any illusion “about what a long way there is to go.’’
Cameron, the first head of state to visit since Burma elected a quasi-civilian government, said recent moves to democracy by President Thein Sein may be “one potential chapter of light” in a “world where there are many dark chapters in history being written,” according to The Press Association on Friday.
Earlier, n a press conference in Maylaysia, Cameron told local media: “Of course, we should be skeptical. Of course, we should be questioning. Of course, we shouldn't be naive.” But he added: “Aung San Suu Kyi herself, who has spent so many years in such a long, lonely but powerful struggle, believes that he [President Thein Sein] is acting in good faith.”
Cameron said: “If Burma moves towards democracy then we should respond in kind, and we should not be slow in doing that... Just as Britain played a leading role in Europe in placing tough sanctions on that [military] regime, if we are satisfied change is taking place, we should be the ones not being backwards in our response.”
“It seems as if the president of Burma is intent on taking a new path and wants to see a progressive flourishing of freedom and democracy,” he said.
Later, In an exchange with students at the Nottingham University campus in Malaysia, Cameron said: “I hope that following my meetings tomorrow I will have the confidence to go back to my country, back to others in the European Union, and argue that the change in Burma is irreversible, that they are set on a path towards democracy, that in a world of difficulty and darkness and all sorts of problems, here is one bright light that we should encourage, and we should respond in a way that makes that regime feel that it is moving in the right direction and that the world is on its side.”
Britain has been among the most conservative European countries when it comes to lifting sanctions. EU foreign ministers are to discuss sanction policy towards Burma on April 23.
E.U. sanctions, including an arms embargo and an asset freeze imposed on nearly 500 people, will expire on April 30. Earlier this year, the EU lifted travel bans on more than 80 senior officials, including the president.
On Thursday, Cameron told the BBC he would meet Burmese President Thein Sein and “thank him for the work that he has done” on democratic reform. He is expected to tell the president the UK is prepared to offer support in areas such as how to build a democracy, tackling corruption and peace and reconciliation, if the country moves ahead with reform and EU sanctions are lifted.
Friday afternoon, Cameron is scheduled to conduct a joint press conference with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was recently elected to Parliament after two decades spent mostly under house arrest. They will then share a private dinner in Rangoon.
Regarding Suu Kyi’s role in Parliament, Burmese presidential adviser Koko Hlaing told VOA on Thursday that the government did not expect the extent of election victory by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.
As a parliament member, he said Suu Kyi will have a great opportunity to advise the government and present her ideas. Koko Hlaing is a member of a Burmese delegation visiting Washington this week. He said he expects that the U.S. will move to lift investment sanctions gradually. Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy captured 43 of 45 available seats in Parliament in the April 1 by-elections, giving it slightly less than 7 per cent of the total seats in Burma’s lawmaking body.