President Obama fostering human rights and partnership with Myanmar

Published November 14, 2014

Obama meets Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi at home where she was kept under arrest.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi following the conclusion of their joint news conference

U.S. President Barack Obama and Myanmar’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi following the conclusion of their joint news conference

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image:  Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press

 

BY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
15 hours ago
President Barack Obama gave a blunt assessment Friday of the need for further reform in Myanmar’s move toward democracy, weighing into sensitive controversies over the treatment of religious minorities and a prohibition keeping opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from running for president.

Suu Kyi, released four years ago from more than two decades of confinement, is now a member of Myanmar’s Parliament but is unable to run in next year’s presidential election because of a constitutional rule barring anyone with strong allegiances to a foreign national from standing for the presidency. Suu Kyi’s sons are British, as was her late husband.

SEE ALSO: Isolated for half a century, Myanmar is a struggling beauty

“I don’t understand a provision that would bar somebody from running for president because of who their children are,” Obama said, with Suu Kyi by his side. “That doesn’t make much sense to me.”

Obama and Suu Kyi took questions from reporters from the back patio of the house where she spent much of her time under house arrest. The two were warm and affectionate in their interactions, sharing a long embrace after their opening statements and joking with each other throughout their remarks.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's residence where she was kept under house arrest.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s residence where she was kept under house arrest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Obama has been pressing Myanmar’s leaders to amend the Constitution, but has been careful to not directly endorse his fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate as the country’s next president. He also raised an issue that has led to criticism for the opposition icon — her reluctance to address the abuse of minority Rohingya Muslims who are deeply disdained by most people in Myanmar.

“Discrimination against the Rohingya or any other religious minority I think does not express the kind of country that Burma over the long term wants to be,” Obama said. “Ultimately that is destabilizing to a democracy.” Myanmar is also known as Burma.

Obama and Suu Kyi met briefly Thursday on the sidelines of a regional summit in the capital city of Naypyitaw. On Friday, Obama flew to the city of Yangon to hold more substantial talks with Suu Kyi and also toured the Secretariat Building, where Suu Kyi’s father, independence hero Gen. Aung San, was assassinated by political rivals in 1947.

Obama in Myanmar: President’s motorcade blasts through Yangon Friday morning.

Obama in Myanmar: President’s motorcade blasts through Yangon Friday morning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Obama had broadly embraced Myanmar’s move away from a half-century of military rule, suspending U.S. sanctions and rewarding the country with high-level visits from American officials. But Myanmar has stalled in fulfilling its promises of political and economic reforms, and in some cases has lost ground.

“We shouldn’t deny that Burma today is not the same as Burma five years ago,” Obama said. “But the process is still incomplete.” “We shouldn’t deny that Burma today is not the same as Burma five years ago,” Obama said. “But the process is still incomplete.”

Both Obama and Suu Kyi warned against complacency in the move toward democracy. Suu Kyi described the process as going through “a bumpy patch.”

Suu Kyi opened the press conference by addressing reports of tension between the U.S. and those working for democratic reforms in Myanmar. “We may view things differently from time to time but that will in no way affect our relationship,” she said.

Obama notably held his news conference on his visit to the Southeast Asian nation with Suu Kyi , not the country’s president. Obama said he told President Thein Sein that he will be judging whether reforms are being fully realized first off by whether next year’s election is held on time and whether the constitutional amendment process reflects inclusion.

Obama touring the Secretariat, site of Myanmar's first parliament and where ASSK's father was assassinated.

Obama touring the Secretariat, site of Myanmar’s first parliament and where ASSK’s father was assassinated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suu Kyi said it’s flattering to have a constitutional provision written with her in mind but it’s not how the law should be written. The 69-year-old said she and her supporters are working to change it and welcome Obama’s support.

“The Constitution says all citizens should be treated as equals and this is discrimination on the grounds of my children,” she said.

 

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Discover Myanmar’s historical treasures

Published October 27, 2013

Editor’s note: CNN’s On the Road series explores the culture, heritage and customs of a country, covering popular culture, food and drink, design and architecture, sport, technology and innovation. This month, we bring you greater insight into Myanmar, revealing the places, the people and the passions unique to this intriguing south-east Asian nation. Watch the episodes at 2300 on October 23 and 24, October 26 at 0930 and October 27 at 0800 (all times GMT).

Yangon, Myanmar (CNN) — After decades of a military junta rule, the south-east Asian country of Myanmar is opening up, and the government is working hard to welcome a plane loads of visitors from around the world.

Myanmar’s turnaround from pariah state to becoming this year’s must-see destination has been remarkable. Much of the country is untouched and rich in both historic and architectural heritage.

There is plenty to discover for the tourist who wants to go off the beaten track.

Below CNN takes a look at some of Myanmar’s most magnificent treasures.

Shwedagon Pagoda

The golden stupa of Yangon’s 2,500-year-old Shwedagon Pagoda shines over the city. The pagoda is covered in hundreds of golden plates and there are thousands of encrusted diamonds on the stupa, glittering in all different colors, reflecting the rays of the sun. It’s a majestic site and impossible not to notice when visiting the former capital of Myanmar.

“In Myanmar, it is very important for our religion,” says Kyaw, a guide at Shwedagon. “Because most people from here, mostly Buddhist people, have to come here at least one time in their life.”

Myanmar is one of the world’s most devout Buddhist nations — the majority of Burmese are Buddhists and the 100-meter-tall Shwedagon is their most sacred temple. Legend says it enshrines eight of Buddha’s hair, that were given to two merchant brothers by Buddha himself.

At times the pagoda has also served as a rallying point and a source of strength against the former military regime, or as in the 1920s and 1930s resistance to British Colonial rule.

Read more: 11 things to know before visiting Myanmar

Colonial architecture in Yangon

The architectural heritage of Yangon is rich and evidence of the former British Empire is almost at every corner. Buildings from the colonial era stretch out across the city, telling stories of a time long gone.

Yangon has one of the highest number of colonial period buildings in all of south-east Asia, built during the British rule in Burma, which lasted from 1824 to 1948. Buildings like the City Hall, the former High Court and Strand Hotel attract many visitors.

But these iconic buildings are under threat, since renovating and preserving their crumbling facades is costly. The Yangon Heritage Trust is trying to ensure these buildings don’t meet a bulldozer, so the country’s past can be maintained.

One building in particular could be seen as the monument to Myanmar’s political rebirth.

The Secretariat, the Minister’s building during the British rule, has been standing empty for years, but played an important role in the history of Myanmar. This is where the leaders of the independence movement in the late 1940s were assassinated — among them General Aung San, the father of Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s Nobel laureate, and a former political prisoner.

That her father lost his life in the assassination room is one of the reasons why the Secretariat could now be preserved. “I think just a couple of years ago this was not on the agenda at all and I think we were in real danger,” says chairman of the Yangon Heritage Trust, Thant Myint-U.

Read more: Fast facts about Myanmar’s history

Bagan, ancient city in the Mandalay region


A journey through Myanmar inspires silence. And there is one journey in particular that in the 19th century inspired young poet Rudyard Kipling to write his poem “On the Road to Mandalay“.

Traveling along the lifeblood of the country — the river Irrawaddy — feels like being on a trek back in time. Along the river there are fishing villages where life hasn’t changed for decades. The cruise along the river gets you to places not so easily reached by car or rail.

But there is one destination that leaves every visitor breathless — Bagan.

Bagan is an ancient city situated in central Myanmar, in the region of Mandalay. Considered one of the world’s most spectacular and significant archaeological sites, it consists of more than 2000 pagodas and temples built by the kings of Bagan between the 11th and 13th centuries.

Marcus Allender, founder of travel site for Myanmar, Go-Myanmar, wants to simplify travel to the country.

“[This] is a country that’s had massive shifts over the past 1000 years and there are dozens of ancient capitals, Bagan being the most famous one. There are loads of them and there is just so much to discover,” Allender says.

“And then when you get the Buddhism going through that, it’s a deeply religious country, [with] all the pagoda’s everywhere. It makes it special.”



By Paula Newton and Jenny Soffel, for CNN






Tuesday Travel Tip: How to Travel Responsibly in Burma

Published June 26, 2012

Now that Burma has begun to take it’s first cautious steps towards democracy, is it okay to travel there? In this week’s Tuesday Travel Tip, I’ll be looking particularly at the question of traveling to Burma. Is it safe and ethical for foreigners to go there? And if so, how can we as responsible travelers, use tourism to support the local people? In the Lonely Planet’s 2010 Myanmar guide, it poses a serious question for all potential visitors:
Does your money, no matter how carefully spent, sustain a military dictatorship that has imprisoned political dissidents, used forced labour, cracked down on peaceful demonstrations (as was seen in September 2007) and seized foreign aid (most notably following the Cyclone Nargis in May 2008)? Or does isolating one of the world’s poorest countries not only deprive a burgeoning private sector of income, but also push the government into the arms of neighbours with bigger bankrolls and their own serious human rights issues?
As we looked at in last week’s blog on Myanmar’s recent political developments, 2012 has been a big year for the Burmese people. Whether or not his election was fraudulent, since U Thein Seintook office in 2011, he’s followed the UN guidelines for democratic reform, releasing many political prisoners, allowing Suu Kyi to run for office, and negotiating ceasefires with ethnic minorities. These changes have shifted the lens through which tourism is approached, and when the NLD rescinded their 15-year travel boycott in Fall 2010, the question evolved from “should I travel there?” to “how should I travel there?”
Young Buddhist Monks in Bagan
At the beginning of November, 2010 Win Tin, co-founder of Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), issued a momentous statement: “We want people to come to Burma, not to help the junta, but to help the people by understanding the situation: political, economic, moral—everything.” After supporting a 15-year travel boycott, times had changed to where isolation was doing more harm than good to the Burmese people. “For the outside world to see, to know our situation,” Win Tin continued, “that can help our cause a lot.” As a conscious traveler, how can we take up this call to action and endorse positive change by understanding and sharing the political, economic and moral situation of the Burmese people?
The Burma Campaign UK, an organization dedicated to promoting “human rights, democracy and development in Burma” lists the NLD’s official statement on tourism, released May 2011. The NLD explains that “while tourism could enhance the economic life of the people of the host country by creating new jobs, bringing in hard currency and raising the standard of living, it could have negative consequences if environmental issues are ignored and the meeting of different cultures and social values are not approached with sufficient sensitivity.” Although Burna’s political and human rights situation has improved vastly over the last year, many problems still exist within the tourism infrastructure. To understand and address the current issues facing Burma, I’ve broken them down into three main problems:
Intha man fishing on Inlay Lake
  • Environmental Concern. Tourism has lead to the destruction of native ecology, where the clearing of forests has been used to make room for large hotels, golf courses and resorts. Waste management is another major concern. A lack of proper regulations for garbage and sewage has threatened such ecosystems as Inlay Lake, the home of the leg-rowing Intha people. Pollution from fertilizer and human waste dumped into the lake has driven many fish species near extinction and threatened the livelihood of the local people.
  • Crony Alert. Big tourism related businesses are still owned by members of the government or their cronies. In fact, many large “private” companies are run by what the Lonely Planet describes as “government members on the sly.” Most of these cronies are involved in the gem and timber trade, but some have also infiltrated tourism. Tay Za, a notorious government crony and businessman, has founded two luxury hotel chains: Aureum Palace and Myanmar Treasure Resort. Government-owned hotels have historically imposed forced migration of locals to make room and forced labor for their construction.
  • Ethnic Conflict. While Sein Thein has extended the olive branch to most of the country’s ethnic minorities, recent bloodshed in the Myanmar’s Western state of Rakhine may impact the continuation of Myanmar’s democratic reforms. While these conflicts are not directly related to tourism infrastructure, the world is watching how Myanmar handles the conflict between Buddhists and the Islamic ethnic minority, the Rohingya, who have long been persecuted by the government. 
U Bein Bridge, Mandalay

No matter how hard you try, a percentage of the money you spend will inevitably go to the government, whose track record over the past 50 years has been more than questionable. However, it is possible to travel responsibly. As Burma’s era of isolation draws to a close, it’s our responsibility as travelers and global citizens to ensure that our actions, observations and interactions help and not harm the Burmese people. The best way to promote sustainable and ethical travel is to set an example with your own trip.

What to Avoid:
  • Avoid staying at large luxury resorts as they are likely owned by the government or their cronies and have contributed to sever environmental and human rights abuses.
  • Don’t give money to beggars. The NLD warns that indiscriminant handouts can create a population of beggar children and do not actually help the community at large.
  • Don’t travel in a large package tour. Most package tour providers are interested in making money, not promoting the well being of the local people. They tend to patronize government and crony hotels with questionable environmental and human rights records. And as Suu Kyi explained, “tourists who go around in ‘air conditioned taxis’ don’t see anything that’s going on in the country.”
  • For your own safety, unless you are an experienced journalist, stay away from areas of ethnic conflict. 
Bagan, Burma
What to Do:
  • Stay at small guesthouses and patronize local eateries. This will ensure that your money goes to benefiting the local people.
  • Spread your money around. Buy souvenirs from multiple vendors and eat at a different restaurant for each meal, not only will this enrich and broaden your own experience, but it will also help spread your money to benefit as many people as possible.
  • Talk to the local people. After years of isolation, the Burmese love meeting and talking to foreigners, whose presence shows that Burma and her plight have not been forgotten by the rest of the world. The best way to learn about Burmese culture, politics and everyday life is through interactions with locals. Indeed, cultural exchange was one of the main reasons the NLD has decided to advocate for tourism. However, approach political subject matter with caution. Even though the government has begun to democratize, criticizing the government may have negative repercussions on the local people.
  • Support programs that are environmentally and ecologically conscious; the NLD welcomes visitors who seek to ameliorate Burma’s troubles through their business.
  • Share your observations. Your trip doesn’t end when you return home. In fact one of the responsibilities of travelers to Burma is to share with the rest of the world what they have seen and learned in order to promote the continuation of democratic reform and pressure the government to protect its citizen’s civil liberties. 
Burma is one of the most, beautiful, diverse and culturally rich places in the world, but if you decide to visit, please take the NLD’s call to action to heart. If playing golf and relaxing at a resort is the vacation you desire, then please don’t go to Burma. Tourists have the ability to positively influence the country’s progression to democracy and this is a power that should not be taken lightly. Remember, your actions have consequences. By using your trip to set an example in sustainable and ethical travel, you can transcend ordinary tourism and forge a path towards positive political, economic and social change. 

The End of Isolation

Published June 21, 2012

Part II: Democratic Reform Arrives in Burma
Clinton and Suu Kyi in Yangon, photo copyright Paula Bronstein
For the last quarter century, the name Myanmar has conjured an image à propos to the pages of Heart of Darkness: a mysterious almost surreal place, marred by the iron fist of the military junta and synonymous with the worst human rights violations. The pariah of the western world, Myanmar’s isolation only seemed to add to its phantasmagoric landscape and after 2010’s fraudulent elections, which blocked international monitors and democratic hero Aung San Suu Kyi from participating, there seemed little hope of change. “After years of deadlock and stagnation, change is coming, but strictly on the junta’s terms,” the New York Times bleakly forewarned.
But April 1st’s election of Suu Kyi and other NLD representatives to parliament suggest that change may be coming, and this time on the terms of the people. On April 4th, after nearly 25 years of tense dealings, the Obama administration tentatively re-opened relations with Myanmar (also known as Burma), lifting the travel ban and allowing American NGOs in health, education and environmental conservation to enter the country. Vice President Hilary Clinton described Suu Kyi’s election as “an important step to the country’s transformation.” And in May, even more sanctions were suspended as the first American ambassador to Burma since 1990 was elected. “As an iron fist unclenches in Burma, we have to extend our hand,” said President Obama, to which Clinton added: “so today we say to American business: Invest in Burma.”
Since taking office in March 2011, Myanmar’s president Thein Sein has been making all the right moves to reopen Burma to the rest of the world. Releasing hundreds of political prisoners, negotiating peace talks and allowing Suu Kyi to run for office, all fall under the UN’s mandated list for the country’s democratic reform. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon defined three indicators of political change in Burma: “the release of all political prisoners, genuine national reconciliation and an inclusive electoral process.” While these requirements have yet to be fulfilled to their completion, Thein Sein efforts have been the most significant reforms in nearly 50 years of military rule.
In her 2011 meeting with Hilary Clinton, Suu Kyi stated, “if we go forward together, I am confident that there will be no turning back from the road towards democracy. We are not on that road yet, but we hope to get there as soon as possible with the help and understanding of our friends.” It’s possible we are seeing the tentative steps of a fledgling democracy, but Aung Din, former political prisoner and head of the US Campaign for Burma warns against lifting sanctions too soon: “if they do it very quickly, and make it too generous, it will only undermine the democratic forces in the country.”
Are we seeing real democratic change in Burma? The consensus is cautiously optimistic. After years of isolation and military mismanagement, Burma’s tanked economy requires foreign investment for revitalization, which may act as incentive for Thein Sein to continue with the necessary reforms. The Obama administration’s suspension of its sanctions are to act as incentive for Myanmar’s continued democratic reform, striking “an appropriate balance,” said Senator John McCain, “between encouraging the price of reform now unfolding in Burma, while maintaining sufficient leverage to continue pressing the Burmese government for additional progress.”

25 Years of Isolation

Published June 14, 2012

Part I: The History Behind the Burma Travel Boycott

Burmese Freedom Fighter Aung San Suu Kyi
April 2012 was a landmark month for Myanmar (formerly known as Burma); as ex-political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi was elected to parliament, President Barack Obama dropped the 16-year US travel boycott against the country. Over the past 50 years, Burma had been one of the most isolated and mysterious places in the world. It’s diverse ecology, rich cultural history and gold-coated pagodas are juxtaposed against extreme poverty and human rights abuses. In 1962, less than 20 years after Burma’s independence from British colonial rule, General Ne Win seized power through a military coup, abolishing the parliament, setting up military junta rule, and closing Burma off to the outside world.  Visas were limited to 24hours and a 17-member “Revolutionary Council” was put in charge, using the guise of socialism to march the country into abject poverty (Lonely Planet).
By 1988, fed up with a continually disintegrating economic situation, the Burmese revolted, taking to the streets in huge pro-democracy demonstrations. On the 8th of August 1988 the government hit hard against the people, killing over 3,000 citizens in less than six weeks. Worn down by protest and bloodshed, the military junta promised to hold free elections in 1989. In response, the National League for Democracy (NLD) was quickly formed and, Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of revolutionary hero Aung San, became the spokesperson. The vote took place in 1990; the first Burma had seen in 30 years. With 82% of the votes, the NLD won in a landslide election, but the Junta refused to handover power and instead imprisoned the party’s main candidates, including Aung San Suu Kyi, who was  placed under house arrest, where she remained off and on until 2010. In 1991, Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, drawing international attention to the struggle and plight of the Burmese people.
It was in this environment of slaughter and oppression that the first western embargos against Myanmar were formed. In addition to economic sanctions, in 1995, Suu Kyi made an official statement against tourism to her country, asking international visitors to “visit us later,” qualifying traveling to Myanmar as “tantamount to condoning the regime.” “The bulk of the money from tourism goes straight into the pockets of the generals,” Suu Kyi stated in 1995. Those in favor of the boycott saw travel to Myanmar as simultaneously an economic and symbolic endorsement of the military junta. The Free Burma Coalition explained that “Nowhere else in the world have human rights abuses and tourism been so closely linked.” Indeed according to the Burma Campaign “local populations have been displaced… for the construction of hotels and other tourist facilities,” while forced labor has been used to construct these tourist accommodations. “The net result is economic hardship exacerbated by the abrupt breakdown of a traditional way of life and gross violation of human rights.” 
However, while the tourism boycott did help to cripple the economic power of the military junta, it also had adverse effects on the people it proposed to protect. In 2003, Zarni, the founder of the Free Burma Coalition, reversed his position on the travel boycott, stating that  “the whole boycott and sanctions campaign, in which I played a lead role, was a major strategic mistake” (qtd. in Lonely Planet). By stopping tourism, the Burmese people became more cut off from the outside world than ever before. Not only were they blocked off from international news sources, but the lack of international monitoring only increased the junta’s ability to continue down its path of oppressive human rights violations. Indeed, despite the efforts of the boycott and embargos, the junta still remain in control. In 2007, a protest against high fuel prices led by students and Buddhist monks led to violent crackdowns. Less than a year later, in 2008 Cyclone Nargis stormed through Yangon and the Irrawaddy Delta, killing a reported 85,000 people with an approximate 54,000 still unaccounted for. The junta did almost nothing to help its citizens during this crises and foreign aid was blocked for nearly three weeks (New York Times).
Would a lack of trade embargos and travel boycotts have made Burma’s situation different? It’s a question than can only lead to speculation. But as democratic change starts to corrode the framework of junta rule, it’s clear that the question of traveling to Myanmar needs to be reassessed. Perhaps shutting off a country from the rest of the world is not the best way to bring about political change. Take Cuba for example, where over half a century of a US embargo has done nothing to change the government and only harmed civilians.

In November 2010, the NLD retracted its support of the travel boycott, but despite the country’s recent advancements, Burma still has a long road to democracy. The question is no longer whether or not to travel to Burma, but rather how to travel there? Is there such a thing as responsible and ethical travel? Can your trip make a positive difference on the country and its people? In its 2010 Myanmar guide, the Lonely Planet cites Suu Kyi’s statement about conscious tourism: “Visitors to the country can be useful, depending on what they do, or how they go about it,” she explains, “tourists can open up the world to the people of Burma just as the people of Burma can open up the eyes of tourists to the situation in their own country if they’re interested in looking.” But, she continues,  “tourists who go around in ‘air-conditioned taxis’ don’t see anything that’s going on in the country.”

Spring Brings Democratic Reforms to Myanmar

Published April 12, 2012

Myanmar (also known as Burma) is a country long marred by the corrupt oppression of a military government and after its disputed “democratic” elections in 2010, neither its people nor the global community expected much to change. In 2010, international monitors were banned from the country, and Noble Peace Laureate, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as well as her party—the National League for Democracy (NLD)—was barred from participating in the election. The result was a fraudulent vote that elected Myanmar’s notorious junta, legitimizing their military majority rule through nominally democratic elections. As the New York Times bleakly forewarned in a 2010 article: “After years of deadlock and stagnation, change is coming, but strictly on the junta’s terms.”

But it seems that change might be coming to Myanmar sooner than expected and this time on the terms of the people. Two weeks ago, on Sunday, April 1st, Myanmar surprised everyone when Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was elected (in a landslide) to parliament, securing over 80% of the votes. Of course, this isn’t the first time Suu Kyi has been elected; she and the NLD won by a huge majority in 1990, but the ruling junta refused to give up their power and instead placed Suu Kyi under house arrest, where she remained off-and-on from 1990 until 2010. She wasn’t released until shortly after the 2010 elections. Suu Kyi’s recent transition from political prisoner to elected official is an unprecedented change for Myanmar and one that has inspired hope for its people.
In the April 1st election, 6 million people were eligible to vote, deciding between 160 candidates from 17 parties all running for 45 parliamentary seats (source: Al Jazeera). While the number of open seats was not enough to threaten the junta’s majority rule (less than 10% of the seats in parliament were up for grabs), the vote nonetheless remains symbolic of democratic reform within the country.
In an unprecedented step for this regime, the government even invited foreign observers to ensure a legitimate election. But despite the reforms that Myanmar’s president, Tien Sien, has taken, which include the release of hundreds of political prisoners, the road to democracy remains a long one. While international monitors and reports were allowed in the country, they were still blocked from the polling booths and the vote counting. Rumors of coercion by government officials and complaints of tampered voting sheets also marred these recent elections, which Daw Aung San Suu Kyi described as  “not genuinely free and fair” (source: Al Jazeera).
The question remains if this poll’s symbolic step for democracy will translate into real changes. Suu Kyi, an emblem of the democratic hopes of her people, will have a lot to live up to in these coming months. But in the meantime people are hopeful. As Daw Kyi Kyi Tun, a former schoolteacher told New York Times reporter: “We used to fear speaking with foreigners about democracy. Now we have courage.”
           
Two weeks following the election, Myanmar’s president seems committed to making positive democratic changes. On Saturday, Sien Tien hosted talks with the ethnic minority rebel group—Karen National Union (KNU)—that focused on reintegrating the KNU into the political system. Sien Tien explained that he “viewed the rebels as brothers rather than an enemy” and a member of the negotiations described the talks as “warm and open” (source:  Al Jazeera). The KNU has been fighting with the government since 1949 (Myanmar has only been independent since 1948). Like the recent elections, these dialogues represent a dramatic shift towards peace and transparency, leaving Myanmar’s people and the international community cautiously optimistic. The regime seems committed to implementing the social, political and economic reforms Western nations have demanded since placing international sanctions on the country in the 1990s. 2012 has been a year of political reform and with Western powers currently reviewing their sanctions (source: Al Jazeera) it’s possible Myanmar may once again be opened to international trade and travel. 
Sources: 
Change Comes to Myanmar but Only on the Junta’s Terms
From Prisoner to Parlament in Myanmar” 
Myanmar President Meets Karen Rebels
Suu Kyi ‘wins seat’ in Myanmar Parlament” 

The Economist Just Published a New Article on Myanmar’s Election

Published November 4, 2010

Slowly, the Myanmar army eases its grip and an unfair and un-free poll stirs plenty of cynicism. But a political transition may be starting at last.

Here’s the full story via The Economist: “Myanmar’s election – Slowly, the army eases its grip

Photo credit: The Economist/ Reuters