Ministerial Visits (Burma)

Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs written statement – made at on 16 January 2012.

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Photo of William Hague William Hague The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I would like to update the House on my visit to Burma on 5-6 January.

This was an historic visit; the first by a British Foreign Secretary since 1955. It was an opportunity to show that we recognise the efforts of opposition leader Aung

San Suu Kyi and the Government to drive forward important reforms. I also wanted to set out clearly to the Government the changes that we would want to see before we could support lifting EU sanctions.

I met the President, the Foreign Minister and the Speaker of the Lower House. I welcomed progress made so far, including the dialogue between the Government and Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the changes in the law that allowed her party to register for the forthcoming by-elections, the initial releases of political prisoners, and the moves towards greater media freedom. I informed them of the allocation from the Department for International Development of £10 million of existing aid for microfinance for the Burmese people, and announced an additional £2 million of humanitarian aid to benefit people in Kachin State, the site of some of the worst ethnic conflict.

I set out clearly with all my interlocutors the steps which would be needed before a more fundamental shift in our relationship could take place. These are: the release of all political prisoners in time for the by-elections on 1 April; the free and fair conduct of those by-elections; and humanitarian access to conflict areas, particularly in Kachin State, alongside a clear process of reconciliation. I made it clear that if these three conditions were met the UK would support the easing of the EU sanctions.

I was assured by the President that the reforms would continue, that further political prisoner releases would go ahead, and that by-elections would be free and fair. He was confident that the Burmese Government would soon achieve ceasefires nationwide, and acknowledged the need for humanitarian assistance in conflict areas.

I raised with the Foreign Minister the discrimination suffered by the Rohingya community, who have been denied citizenship and access to basic services and rights. We will continue to press the Burmese Government on this issue.

I held two meetings with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and assured her of the UK’s continued support for her efforts to promote reform and democracy in Burma. She repeated her core priorities: the release of all political prisoners and an improvement in the rule of law; and the need for the by-elections to be free and fair as well as progress on the complex ethnic situation.

I met representatives from other opposition groups, including the 88 Generation leaders and former political prisoners. I also met a range of representatives from ethnic communities, including the Kachin, Rohingya, Shan, Rakhine, Chin, Mon, Karen and Karenni to hear more about their concerns and aspirations. We will continue to stay close to these and other ethnic groups to ensure we remain seized of the issues they face.

I am delighted to say that following my visit, there have been significant further developments on some of the issues I raised with the Government.

On 12 January, the Government and the Karen National Union signed a ceasefire after 63 years of conflict. There is still a long way to go to rebuild fully trust between the parties, but this is an important step in the right direction.

I also warmly welcome the release of a significant number of political prisoners on 13 January. Exact numbers are still being verified but those released include Generation 88 and ethnic leaders. This is another positive step on the road to reform in Burma.

The British Government will continue to follow developments in Burma closely. We will support progress, while remaining vigilant on human rights issues, especially in areas affected by ethnic conflict.