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Clinton Makes Historic Visit to Burma


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Burma Wednesday for a historic visit. Clinton's trip is the first in half a century for a top U.S. diplomat and is in response to political and economic reforms by the military-dominated government.

Burma Analyst Monique Skidmore talks to Victor Beattie about Clinton's visit to Burma

The secretary's visit is the first visit by America's top diplomat since Burma's military overthrew a democratically elected government in 1962.

The army has dominated the country ever since and been accused of widespread rights abuses.

An election last year, although criticized in some quarters as a sham, brought a nominally civilian government to power.

Since then, officials have surprised critics by relaxing the state’s grip on the media, releasing more than 200 political prisoners, legalizing protests and labor unions, and holding direct talks with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Clinton told reporters in South Korea Wednesday that she wants to determine if the government intends further reforms.

"Obviously, we and many other nations are quite hopeful that these 'flickers of progress', as President Obama called them in Bali, will be ignited into a movement for change that will benefit the people of the country," she stated.

On the two-day visit, Clinton will meet with government leaders including President Thein Sein as well as opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Nobel Prize laureate was released one year ago from 15 years of house arrest. In Rangoon Wednesday, she was asked by reporters what she thought would come from Clinton's visit.

Suu Kyi says she still opposes lifting economic sanctions, which the Burmese officials have been pushing for.

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The U.S. and European Union have sanctioned Burma for the government's alleged human rights abuses and anti-democratic practices.

Before her trip, Clinton said the sanctions would remain in place for the time being.

Skeptics of the government are quick to point out there are still hundreds of political prisoners languishing behind bars. Rights groups say military abuses are common in ethnic rebel areas, including extrajudicial killings and rape.

Human Rights Watch Senior Researcher on Burma David Mathieson says that fighting increased in the past year - at the same time the government was publicly promoting its political and economic reforms. He says he believes these abuses will be addressed during Clinton’s meetings this week.

"What I'm talking about is raising very serious ongoing concerns about political prisoners, about abuses against civilians in ethnic conflict areas and the general climate of abuse that still pervades the Burmese military," Mathieson said.

Clinton will meet with representatives of ethnic minority groups on Friday to discuss the ongoing conflict.

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