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Myanmar falls short on key reform pledges to US

November 11, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama’s visit to Myanmar in 2012 celebrated the nation’s historic shift from military rule. But as Obama returns Wednesday, optimism over economic and political reforms has faded. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has questioned what’s been accomplished in the last two years.

The answer is mixed. On the eve of Obama’s first visit, Myanmar President Thein Sein made 11 policy pledges on human rights concerns, ties with North Korea and anti-Muslim violence. The quasi-civilian government has progressed, but deep problems remain.

An Associated Press review:


GOAL: Allow the International Committee of the Red Cross access to prisons.

UPDATE: In early 2012, the government agreed to the first Red Cross prison visits in seven years. Spokesman Ewan Watson said the agency has visited 28 detention sites this year. Rights activists say ill treatment of detainees persists.


GOAL: Invite the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to establish an office in Myanmar.

UPDATE: The government issued the invitation in November 2012 but has refused to let the agency open an office to monitor human rights. U.N. staff visit on a rotating basis.


GOAL: Allow blacklisted people to enter and leave the country.

UPDATE: Formerly blacklisted human rights activists, journalists and others have been able to visit. Exiled Myanmar dissidents have returned. But some returning exiles have been unable to secure Myanmar citizenship; members of the Burmese diaspora say they have been denied visas. Some freed political prisoners face travel restrictions.


GOAL: Initiate a process to assess the criminality of remaining political prisoners.

UPDATE: The government says all political prisoners have been freed. The U.S. says more than 1,300 have been released in the past three years. But 27 prisoners are still held, according to the main nongovernmental group tracking the issue. Rights groups say hundreds of new dissenters and peaceful protesters have been detained in the past year.


GOAL: Pursue a durable cease-fire in Kachin state, scene of the largest ethnic rebellion. Pursue sustainable political solutions with ethnic minorities.

UPDATE: Thein Sein’s administration has held peace talks with an array of ethnic rebel groups. In northern Kachin state more than 100,000 villagers have been displaced by fighting since 2011. Clashes escalated in October between the army and ethnic Shan and Karen rebels.


GOAL: Take decisive action in Rakhine state to prevent communal violence, hold perpetrators to account and meet the humanitarian needs of the people. Address contentious political issues.

UPDATE: Attacks by Buddhist extremists since mid-2012 have left hundreds of minority Rohingya Muslims dead and 140,000 trapped in dire conditions in camps. More than 100,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar by boat — with departures reported to be accelerating. Hundreds of the migrants have died at sea.

Authorities have obstructed humanitarian access, leading to preventable deaths. The main aid group in Rakhine state, Doctors Without Borders, was expelled in February.

A draft government plan would enable the estimated 1.3 million Rohingya in Myanmar to seek a form of citizenship but only if they categorize themselves as “Bengalis,” which they object to as it implies they are illegal migrants from Bangladesh. Those denied citizenship would be put in camps and face deportation.


GOAL: Expedite negotiations with international humanitarian organizations for broader access to conflict-affected areas.

UPDATE: Hundreds of thousands of members of ethnic minorities remain displaced in border regions. The International Committee of the Red Cross has opened offices in Shan and Kachin states and been allowed into conflict zones.


GOAL: Sign the Additional Protocol to the U.N. nuclear agency’s Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement.

UPDATE: Myanmar signed the protocol in September 2013, but has yet to ratify it. The agreement requires the government to declare all nuclear facilities and materials and allow greater scrutiny by inspectors.


GOAL: Abide by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874 prohibiting weapons imports from North Korea.

UPDATE: U.S. officials say Myanmar has taken significant steps, but has not cut all military ties to North Korea.


GOAL: Strive for more open and accountable government.

UPDATE: The government has fired hundreds of civil servants for petty corruption. Myanmar has applied to join an international agreement intended to ensure full disclosure of taxes and other payments from oil, gas and mining companies. But reporting of revenues by state-owned enterprises, including on jade and timber, remains patchy. The military and cronies of the former junta dominate the economy.


GOAL: Combat human trafficking.

UPDATE: For three years, Myanmar has stayed off the annual U.S. list of the worst offenders failing to combat human trafficking. But there’s evidence Myanmar’s security forces are profiting from the mass departure of Rohingya Muslims by extracting payments from those fleeing.


Associated Press writer Aye Aye Win in Yangon, Myanmar, contributed to this report.