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Foreign Secretary remarks at his press conference in Burma

Foreign Secretary William Hague concludes first visit to Burma by a UK Foreign Secretary in over 50 years.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

At a press conference in Rangoon today, marking the end of his visit to Burma, the Foreign Secretary said:

“I am delighted to be here, making the first visit by a British Foreign Secretary in 56 years.
It has been made possible by the initial steps taken by President Thein Sein, including the release of over 250 political prisoners, the easing of restrictions on the media and political parties and dialogue with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD.

My visit is a gesture of good intent on the part of the United Kingdom in the light of these changes. I have come to hear directly from the country’s leaders what they plan to do to continue progress, and to speak to opposition figures and members of civil society about British support for their endeavours.

My message is that if the country continues on this promising path, as we hope it will, we are ready to offer a new relationship based on friendship and prosperity.

I have held meetings with the President, the Foreign Secretary, and the Speaker of the Lower House, and I met representatives from ethnic groups. It was a particular honour for me, last night and this morning, to meet Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and representatives of her Party. She embodies the long struggle for democracy in this country and is an inspiration to me and to countless people around the world.

In my meetings with her and with the Government I discussed the many bold steps that still need to be taken.

First, there are hundreds of men and women still remaining in jail here for their beliefs. This has no place in any democracy, and it has no place in the future of this country. I was encouraged to hear that the Government plans to release remaining political prisoners. But more ambitious action will be needed and we look to them rapidly to honour this commitment.

Second, it is vital that the by-elections on 1st April are credible, free and fair and enable all parties to compete. We welcome the NLD’s courageous decision to participate in these elections, and the world will watch these elections closely.

Third, for too long this country’s border regions have been scarred by conflict and suffering, particularly in Kachin state, where fighting has displaced tens of thousands of people in recent months. These is an urgent need for the UN to be allowed to deliver humanitarian assistance independently and with access to all areas, for an end to offensive operations in Kachin State, and for meaningful political dialogue with ethnic armed groups. I encourage all sides today to seize this moment of change, to agree to a formal cessation of hostilities and uphold international law, and to begin serious political dialogue as part of a national reconciliation process.

These are indispensable steps for confidence in the country’s development and they are achievable in the near future.

As I heard yesterday from ethnic minority representatives, reconciliation is the most important challenge facing this country. Achieving a durable and equitable peace will be complex. But it is essential to meet the aspirations and rights of all the citizens of this diverse country. Sustainable peace must be built on trust and dialogue between all groups, to provide a solid foundation for economic and political progress.

This must include addressing the human rights violations which are a stain on the progress elsewhere in the country. I also raised with the government our concerns about the discrimination faced by the Rohingya minority, who in many cases lack basic civil and political rights. In all these areas I hope that the new National Human Rights Commission can demonstrate that it is a truly independent, impartial and effective body.

The British Government and the British people have a strong commitment to the people of this country, as we have shown by our staunch support for democracy here over many years.

We are ready to move towards a strong, positive and open relationship as reforms take place, and to respond bilaterally and through the EU. We will judge progress by actions and events and will respond in good faith to measures as they are taken.
We are already the biggest bilateral aid donor, with £185 million committed for the next four years. I have announced on this visit that UK funding for microfinance initiatives will assist up to 55,000 more people in rural areas to access loans to assist them in establishing and developing small-scale enterprises and build better futures for themselves, their families and their communities. We will also provide additional support for peacebuilding efforts in Kachin State and for 13,000 people displaced by conflict there, particularly women and children, to include food, nutrition, shelter, water and sanitation.

Two days ago, this country celebrated its independence day, marking 64 years since independence from British rule in 1948. Today it may again stand on the edge of a new era. As we enter 2012 it is my hope that this year will also be come to be seen as a new dawn in the history of this nation.”

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Published 9 January 2012