'No going back' on Myanmar's reforms

'No going back' on Myanmar's reforms
US Secretary of State John Kerry speaking with Myanmar’s President Thein Sein in Naypyitaw yesterday. Mr Kerry expressed concern over religious violence against Muslim minorities in the country. Minister Soe Thane, who is one of President Thein Sein’s key reformers.

NAYPYITAW, Myanmar - There is no turning back on reforms for Myanmar, a key minister of reformist President Thein Sein asserted as he defended the government's track record.

A surge of anti-Muslim violence since Myanmar's opening up three years ago has wracked the predominantly Buddhist country, sparking concern in the international community and raising questions about Myanmar's reformist agenda.

Visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry, too, raised concerns and urged Myanmar to stay the course when he paid a courtesy call on Mr Thein Sein yesterday.

Mr Soe Thane, one of the President's key reformers, admitted that Myanmar has problems but of the government's commitment to reforms, he told The Sunday Times: "There is no turning back, there is no backsliding."

Instead, he reminded critics to take a "holistic" view of his country's transition after more than four decades of military rule.

"We recognise fully that sectarian violence is a cancer that will destroy any hopes for a successful transition to peace, prosperity and democracy," he said in an interview in his office in Naypyitaw's sprawling government zone.

"To see the situation in terms of a straight line on which this nation can go forward or backwards is simplistic," he said.

"We have problems, big problems," he acknowledged. "But if we listen to armchair analysts from thousands of miles away, who are impatient and reach for easy answers, it is the 60 million people of Myanmar that will suffer."

Myanmar's Information Minister Ye Htut said Mr Kerry's hour- long meeting with President Thein Sein was "frank but friendly".

The US' top diplomat raised concerns about religious violence against Muslim minorities that has left many dead and displaced tens of thousands in Rakhine state alone, and the jailing of journalists and land rights activists. But he also congratulated the President and said US support would continue.

Last Friday, Mr Ye Htut, when asked to respond to the critics, told reporters: "We have had successes but we don't deny there are challenges."

He said the problems predated the country's independence from colonial rule in 1948.

Analysts blame shadowy, conservative hardliners intent on destabilising Myanmar to underscore the need for a strong military for much of the anti-Muslim violence.

A Yangon-based diplomat, who asked not to be named, told The Sunday Times in a phone interview: "The government may have the intention to control the sectarian violence, but there are powerful forces involved. This is planned, and it is going to keep happening."

This article was first published on August 10, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.

More about

Purchase this article for republication.



Your daily good stuff - AsiaOne stories delivered straight to your inbox
By signing up, you agree to our Privacy policy and Terms and Conditions.