British Foreign Secretary William Hague called on Myanmar to release all its political prisoners as he began a historic visit to meet the country’s leaders yesterday.
Hague’s two-day trip, which is scheduled to include talks with Myanmar President Thein Sein as well as democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, is the first by a British foreign minister in more than half a century.
Myanmar’s nominally civilian government took power in March following controversial elections, but has surprised observers by its reformist moves.
“I am visiting the country to encourage the [Myanmar] government to continue on its path of reform and to gauge what more Britain can do to support this process,” Hague said before leaving Britain.
He had talks with senior members of the government after arriving in the capital Naypyidaw yesterday morning and was to fly to the country’s commercial hub, Yangon, for meetings with Aung San Suu Kyi.
“Further steps are needed that will have a lasting impact on human rights and political freedom,” a statement released by the Foreign Office said.
“In particular, we hope to see the release of all remaining political prisoners, free and fair by-elections, humanitarian access to people in conflict areas and credible steps towards national reconciliation,” the statement said.
Since taking office Thein Sein, himself a former junta general, has held dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi, suspended an unpopular Chinese-backed mega dam and shown a desire to reach out to the international community.
Some political prisoners have also been released, but the government this week caused disappointment when it announced a cut to jail terms for all inmates, but failed to issue a much-anticipated amnesty for detained dissidents.
Washington said Tuesday’s decision fell short of the level of reform expected by the US to justify a reward in return.
Meanwhile, Aung San Suu Kyi said Myanmar’s government yesterday approved her National League for Democracy (NLD) to run in upcoming by-elections.
Aung San Suu Kyi declined to say yet if she herself would stand in the election when pressed on the issue, but party spokesman Nyan Win said she intends to run.
The highly anticipated by-election set for April 1 will return Aung San Suu Kyi’s party to mainstream politics after two decades.
In 1991 elections, the then-ruling junta refused to accept a NLD victory and the party boycotted general elections in 2010.