David Cameron today invited Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to come to Britain in June and called for EU sanctions on the country to be suspended.
Speaking at a press conference at Aung’s lakeside home in Rangoon, he said:
“I think there is one other element of progress that I hope we can move forward on today and that is this: for many years Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was allowed – if she wanted to – to leave this country. You wrote that they would roll out the red carpet all the way to the aeroplane and put you onto it but never let you return.
“I hope that today – and I have invited Daw Suu today to come to London in June and to come to the United Kingdom in June, to also see your beloved Oxford. And that I think is a sign – if we are able to do this – of huge progress, that you will be able to leave your country to return to your country and to continue your work as a member of parliament.”
To which she replied:
“Well yes, two years ago I would have said, ‘Thank you for the invitation but sorry’ but now I am able to say, ‘Well, perhaps’ – and that’s great progress.”
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While on sanctions, he said:
“I think it is right to suspend the sanctions that there are against Burma – to suspend them, not to lift them, and obviously not to include the arms embargo. Because I do think it’s important to send a signal that we want to help see the changes that can bring the growth of freedom, of human rights and democracy in your country.”
“The argument that we will be making with our European Union colleagues is that when the sanctions come up for ending in April that we should instead of lifting them entirely, we should suspend them, so make sure they are still capable of being put back in place, but they should be suspended. And this sanction suspension should cover everything apart from the arms embargo.
“I think this will give the greatest level of certainty and clarity. It will show to the regime that we respect and welcome the progress that has been made on political prisoners, on political freedom, but it is suspension not lifting and so if this progress is not irreversible then sanctions could be re-imposed.”
“This country really matters. For decades it has suffered under a brutal dictatorship. It is also desperately poor. It doesn’t have to be this way. There is a government now that says it is committed to reform, that has started to take steps, and I think it is right to encourage those steps.”
“We should be under no illusions about what a long way there is to go and how much more the [Burmese] government has to do to show this reform is real and it is irreversible. We should be very cautious and very sceptical about that.
“We need to see progress on political reform. We need to see prisoners freed and changes that show the reform is irreversible.”
It was the audience with Aung, though, that was the undoubted highlight of his visit to Burma, of his whole South East Asia and Pacific tour. Continuing his mission to spread democracy, reiterated in Indonesia yesterday, he praised Aung for her courage, for the “light that you have shone to all those around the world” who desire democracy, freedom and change, that it was “an honour to stand by your side”.
“Let me just end again by saying what an inspiration it is to have followed your struggle, to have watched your incredible courage and the light that you have shone to all those around the world who want to see freedom, democracy and greater human rights. What’s happening here in Burma, I believe, shows that these things can happen, and they can happen in a peaceful way; and that is something we should be hugely encouraged by.
“Burma not only needs political progress, but it desperately needs economic progress and greater wealth too. It is a tragedy that one in three children in this country is malnourished, and that there is so much poverty. And I’m committed that Britain should do what it can to help not only with political progress, but also development and economic progress too.
“But thank you again for giving me such a warm welcome today – it is an honour to stand by your side.