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Burma President Affirms Slowly Declining Role for Military

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Burma President Thein Sein addresses press conference at the third BIMSTEC summit, Myanmar International Convention Center, Naypyitaw, March 4, 2014.

Burma President Thein Sein addresses press conference at the third BIMSTEC summit, Myanmar International Convention Center, Naypyitaw, March 4, 2014.

Burmese President Thein Sein says his country's military has a vital but slowly decreasing role to play as Burma, also known as Myanmar, transitions to a democracy.

In a speech marking his third year in office, he told parliament Wednesday that the country is at a critical juncture and still needs the military to play an important part.

"We have to balance democratic maturity with the development of local peace to decrease the role of [the army] gradually," he said.

He also urged those who want to amend the 2008 constitution to do so in a lawful manner.

However, opposition politicians and rights activists have criticized the slow pace of the reform process, such as peace efforts with ethnic rebel groups and enacting constitutional amendments.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is leading the push for constitutional amendments, said Wednesday that disagreements over reforms should be settled through dialogue.

"Whenever there is disagreement in politics, it does not mean that we are in crisis," she said. "As I do not want any kind of crisis among us, I have been repeatedly requesting a dialogue to talk about it. Of course there are public protests from both sides to express their democratic rights naturally. That's why we do need to hold dialogue with four parties."

The Nobel Laureate is seeking talks between herself, Thein Sein, Parliament Chairman Thura Shwe Mann and Military Chief of Staff Min Aung Hlaing.

Political analyst Bo Bo Kyaw Nyein told VOA's Burmese service that one area of necessary reform is making the role of the military more transparent.

"We need to clarify whether Burmese military controlled the entire nation or is the military under the guidance of the government, which was elected by the people."

Burma has been widely praised for making progress since Thein Sein, a former general, came to power in 2011 and ended decades of military dictatorship. While many countries have lifted sanctions against Burma, the United States and others continue to pressure the government to increase the pace of reforms.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Burmese service.

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