US Expects Slow Progress in Burma – The Irrawaddy


The US wants Suu Kyi and the NLD to participate in the 2010 election but does not expect quick concessions from the junta.

Scott Marciel fields questions at Chulalongkorn University earlier today (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Scott Marciel fields questions at Chulalongkorn University earlier today (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Scott Marciel, the US deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia, said in Bangkok on Thursday morning that the Burmese junta is unlikely to make any concessions anytime soon.

“We did not anticipate that one visit to Burma would resolve all the country’s problems,” he said.

Marciel, who is US ambassador for Asean affairs, concluded his remarks, saying, “It would be very hard to see an election without Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy [NLD] as credible.”

Marciel noted that the junta has recently dropped hints about a relaxation of Suu Kyi’s house arrest. Suu Kyi is currently under 18 months house arrest and is constitutionally barred from running for office due to her marriage to a British academic.

“Ultimately,” he said, “they can either free her, or keep her locked up. They should just free her, end of story.”

Marciel accompanied Kurt Campbell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia, who led the US delegation on its two-day visit to Burma, where it met with Aung San Suu Kyi, a variety of opposition and ethnic group leaders and Burmese Prime Minister Gen Thein Sein.

Describing the visit as “an exploratory mission, to explain our policy review and to hear from Burmese,” Marciel said he does not know why the junta wants to engage with the US at this juncture.

He repeatedly stressed that the US is not expecting immediate or linear progress. He conceded “this will take some time.” When questioned about the impact of recent arrests of aid workers and journalists in Rangoon, he said, “We are prepared for setbacks.”

Marciel reaffirmed that Washington is retaining sanctions on the junta, and reserves the right to tighten or add more in future.

He said the US would respond to any positive measure taken by the junta to free Suu Kyi and more than 2000 other political prisoners and to ensure that the 2010 elections are credible, free and fair.

Throughout his hour-long question-and-answer session with media, academia and Bangkok-based diplomats at Chulalongkorn University, Marciel reiterated his administration’s view that a fully inclusive process of dialogue and national reconciliation involving government, the opposition and ethnic groups must be undertaken before the election.

“I don’t see how there can be a credible election otherwise,” he said.

Asked by The Irrawaddy whether dialogue would have any impact without a review of the 2008 Constitution, Marciel agreed that the Constitution is flawed and was inaugurated after a referendum that “lacked credibility.”

However, Marciel did not say if the US would back the NLD’s request for a constitutional review, saying that the issue would be best resolved as part of a national dialogue process among Burmese.

In the Shwegondaing Declaration of 29 April, the NLD announced it will only participate in the 2010 election if Suu Kyi and all political prisoners are released, the 2008 Constitution is amended and an inclusive, free and fair general election is held under international supervision.

Under the 2008 Constitution, the 2010 election will likely perpetuate military rule under a quasi-civilian veneer, according to legal experts.

Testifying to the US Congressional hearing on Burma held on Sept. 30, Prof David C Williams of the Center for Constitutional Democracy at Indiana University Maurer School of Law, said: “Our focus should not be on ensuring that the elections are free and fair. Instead, the focus should be on securing constitutional change, so that someday Burma might witness civilian rule.”

Marciel said there is no point discussing the finer points of the 2010 election, such as media access and the presence of international observers, before the national dialogue process takes place.

During August US Democrat Senator Jim Webb was granted a meeting  with Sen-Gen Than Shwe, but Campbell and Marciel did not meet with the junta strongman. “I do not know why Senator Webb met with Than Shwe and Kurt Campbell did not,” Marciel said.

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