Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Obama to Myanmar on historic visit: "I've come to extend a hand of friendship"

United States President Barack Obama urged greater social and political reforms from the long-closed nation of Myanmar during his historic visit to the country on November 19, 2012.

Speaking at Yangon University, after meetings with President U Thein Sein and National League for Democracy chairperson Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Mr Obama pledged the continuing support of the US provided Myanmar’s democratisation process continues to move forward.

"Under President Thein Sein, the desire for change has been met with an agenda for reform. I've come to extend a hand of friendship," Mr Obama said, adding that he was keeping a promise he made to Myanmar during his inauguration address in 2009.

"Over the last year and a half, a dramatic transition has begun, as a dictatorship of five decades has loosened its grip," Mr Obama said.

While he lauded recent progress, Mr Obama remained realistic in the challenges that Myanmar still must overcome. 

"The road ahead will be marked by huge challenges, and there will be those who resist the forces of change," said Mr Obama, warning not to extinguish the "flickers of progress that we have seen" since the country began undertaking widespread reforms in 2011.

 "Fear is not the natural state of civilised man," said Mr Obama, quoting from a piece written by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi while she was under house arrest.  

Mr Obama received the loudest applause when he addressed the need for Myanmar to move forward as a complete nation, undivided by religious or ethnic differences.

"No process of reform will succeed without national reconciliation," Mr Obama said.

He spoke about the fighting in Kachin state before addressing the conflict in Rakhine state.

"For too long, the people of this state, including ethnic Rakhine, have faced crushing poverty and persecution. But there's no excuse for violence against innocent people, and the Rohingya hold within themselves the same dignity as you do, and I do," Mr Obama said.

Rakhine State has been plagued by communal unrest between the Rakhine Buddhist majority and Rohingya Muslim minority. Fighting in June and the latest skirmishes last month left 110,000 displaced and nearly 180 dead.

Mr Obama however stopped short of calling for citizenship for the Rohingya, a move that may draw criticism from human rights groups claiming that neither the Myanmar nor US government are going far enough in the ethnic minority’s protection.