11/13/2014, 00.00
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Kachin Activists call on US and UN to bolster Myanmar's stalled reform process

by Francis Khoo Thwe
In a letter, Kachin activists, including the bishop of Myitkyina, call for constitutional reforms, a ceasefire and respect for the rights of minorities. They want partners for "genuine democratic change". The UN secretary general, in Myanmar for the ASEAN and East Asia summits, talks about the plight of the Rohingya.

Naypyidaw (AsiaNews) - Various Kachin human rights organisations and activists, including the Bishop of Myitkyina Mgr Francis Daw Tang, have sent a letter to US President Barack Obama, calling for constitutional reform and greater democracy, an end to the military's veto and blatant human rights violations. They also want an end to the ongoing civil strife, humanitarian aid for internally displaced people, and foreign investment practices that favour the peace process.

Whilst appreciating the efforts by Washington and the West to bolster diplomatic and trade relations with Myanmar by lifting some sanctions, the activists said that "Myanmar needs the US to be a partner in genuine democratic change".

"Many challenges remain," they note, "and there are some fundamental issues that still need to be addressed such as the ethnic struggle and peace process, ongoing communal violence, the legislative process and new laws that do not protect ordinary people and their rights."

World leaders are meeting today in Naypyidaw for the East Asia Summit, which includes ASEAN member states, plus the United States, China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Russia and New Zealand.

On Wednesday, the ten-nation Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) held its own meeting in Myanmar, which chairs the association this year.

US President Barack Obama is among the heads of state and government attending. "Even as there has been some progress on the political and economic fronts, in other areas there has been a slowdown and backsliding in reforms," he said.

His words reflect what human rights organisations and activists have been saying about restrictions on political prisoners, the arrest of journalists and the ongoing plight of the Rohingya Muslim minority displaced in Rakhine state after anti-Muslim violence.

At the same time, whilst everyone's attention is focused on the general election of 2015, opposition leader and National League for Democracy (NLD) president Aung San Suu Kyi recently acknowledged that the reform process is stalled.

The military's veto and the rule that prevents the Nobel Peace Prize laureate to run for president confirm, once more, that in the Asian country freedom and rights are subject to the control of a leadership that has developed a form of "disciplined democracy".

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also spoke up about human rights and minority protection in Myanmar. He expressed his concern for the welfare of the country's Rohingya Muslims and asked Myanmar officials to ensure access for UN agencies delivering humanitarian assistance to the internally displaced. 

Mr Ban, in Myanmar for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit and the East Asia Forum, met with senior Myanmar officials in the capital Naypyidaw and urged them to respect "the human rights and human dignity of people in Rakhine State".

"I expressed my concern about the Rohingya population who face discrimination and violence," the UN secretary general said. "I am urging that the human rights and human dignity of people in Rakhine State should be respected."

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