At the East Asia Summit Saturday, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed support for the decision by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, to choose Burma to chair its meetings in 2014.
Ban said the military-led government in Burma has long been a source of concern for the international community because of its lack of democracy and oppressive rule. But he said that because of recent encouraging developments, he now supports ASEAN's decision to choose Burma to be its chair in 2014.
“Now the United Nations welcomes, just as ASEAN did, the recent developments of the situation under the leadership of [Burmese] President Thein Sein, releasing political prisoners and taking proactive initiatives to reform their political systems,” he said.
The choice of Burma to head a regional organization that promotes democratic principles and the protection of human rights has been controversial. The United States denounced Burma's elections in 2010 as a sham. But in the months that followed, Burmese officials released political opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and a number of other political prisoners, relaxed media controls and pushed through some pro-democratic political reforms.
While the moves drew cautious praise from outside countries, some human rights groups argue that the reforms so far are not enough. One Thailand-based group says there are still over 1,600 political prisoners in Burma. Western nations have called for more political reforms before they will consider easing economic sanctions.
After meeting with Burmese President Thein Sein, the U.N. secretary-general said he encouraged him to accelerate the rate of political reform.
“I so much urged him, it is not necessary to wait until 2014 but even before that they should take all the political reforms, for what[ever] national reconciliation and create [a] social, economically favorable atmosphere so that foreign investment can flow in,” Ban said.
Burma's Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin says the meeting between Burma and the U.N. was positive and constructive .
Secretary-General Ban also said he accepted an invitation to visit Burma sometime in the future to see for himself the reforms being made. President Barack Obama announced Friday that he will send U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Burma on a similar fact-finding mission.