YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi says she hopes that a new U.S. special envoy to Myanmar will be able to help usher in true democratic reforms in her country.
President Barack Obama last week nominated Derek Mitchell, a defense official and Asia expert, as U.S. special envoy to Myanmar. He would have the tough job of negotiating with its military dominated government and pushing for reform. The post still needs to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
“I’m a cautious optimist,” Suu Kyi told reporters Sunday. “As a special envoy, he probably sees that his duty is to try to bring about democratization of Burma as smoothly and quickly as possible. So we look upon him as a friend.”
Myanmar is also known as Burma.
Suu Kyi’s opposition party, which won previous elections in 1990, but was blocked from taking power by the military, boycotted the last vote in November, calling it unfair.
Much of the international community also dismissed the elections as being rigged in favor of the junta.
Suu Kyi’s disbanded party, the National League for Democracy, held a religious ceremony in honor of Myanmar’s traditional New Year, which started Sunday after four days of festivities.
For the New Year, Suu Kyi said she wished for “peace and happiness and hope for the future.”
“Let’s hope that even if we do not get peace and happiness immediately, we will have great hopes of peace and happiness to come,” Suu Kyi said.
The party also held a ceremony for three people it named as “the unsung heroes” — Buddhist monk U Aindaka and two party members, Khin Win and Than Naing. All three are serving long prison sentences for their pro-democracy work.
In the past 18 months, the Obama administration has shifted the long-standing U.S. policy of isolating Myanmar’s generals, attempting to engage them while retaining sanctions imposed because of the military’s poor record on human rights and democracy.
The policy has made little headway. The United States says it is premature to lift sanctions. It is urging Myanmar to release its more than 2,000 political prisoners and open up its politics.
Washington is also concerned about Myanmar’s alleged nuclear ambitions and trade in weapons with North Korea. ♦