Accessibility links

Malaysian PM Visits Burma - 2002-08-18

Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is traveling to Rangoon for a two day visit to Burma. Malaysian officials say Mr. Mahathir does not plan to meet with pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, although officials have indicated some high level contacts may occur.

The Malaysian leader is heading a delegation that includes three cabinet ministers and 300 political and business leaders. His visit is expected to focus primarily on strengthening economic ties between the two countries rather than politics. Officials say delegates are due to sign an agreement for offshore oil exploration by Malaysia's petroleum company, Petronas.

Prime Minister Mahathir's government advocates what it calls constructive engagement with the Burmese military authorities, saying it will be more successful in encouraging the government to open up politics than the policy of isolation backed by Western governments.

Malaysia supported Burma's entry into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) five years ago and is one of Burma's largest foreign investors.

Prime Minister Mahathir's visit comes two weeks after the United Nations special envoy to Burma, Malaysian diplomat Razali Ismail, visited Rangoon for the eighth time in less than two years. Mr. Razali met with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and said he expects substantive talks between her party and the military authorities very soon.

The U.N. envoy's low-key diplomacy has encouraged talks between the two sides aimed at building confidence to launch a political dialogue. The talks have led to the release of several hundred political prisoners and the end of 19 months of house arrest for Aung San Suu Kyi.

Her National League for Democracy party has also been allowed to re-open offices in parts of Burma. The party won national elections in 1990, but a military crackdown prevented it from governing.

Western governments have criticized the talks as slow and continue to advocate economic sanctions as the best way to pressure the Burmese government to enact political reform. The Burmese government says political dialogue should be gradual to avoid destabilizing the country.