Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Suu Kyi urges MPs to back minority rights (UPDATED)
by Hla Hla Htay
NAYPYIDAW, July 25, 2012 (AFP) - Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday called for laws to protect the rights of the strife-torn nation's myriad ethnic minorities in her inaugural address to the fledgling parliament.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner won her first seat in the legislature in landmark April by-elections, marking a dramatic transformation from a longtime political prisoner to a key political figure in the budding reform process.
The veteran activist used her first speech to lawmakers to support a motion by a ruling-party lawmaker on upholding ethnic minority rights.
"To become a truly democratic union with a spirit of the union, equal rights and mutual respect, I urge all members of parliament to discuss the enactment of the laws needed to protect equal rights of ethnicities," she said.
Protecting ethnic rights required more than just maintaining ethnic languages and culture, she added, noting that ethnic minority groups suffer above-average poverty rates.
"Furthermore, the flames of war are not completely extinguished," she said.
The 67-year-old's entry into mainstream politics is one of the most visible signs of change under a new reformist government which took power last year under President Thein Sein, a former general.
Thein Sein has overseen a series of dramatic reforms, including the release of hundreds of political prisoners, currency market liberalisation and ceasefire deals with several armed rebel groups.
Civil war has plagued parts of the country formerly known as Burma since it won independence from Britain in 1948, and many members of ethnic minority groups are suspicious of the majority Burmans including Suu Kyi.
An end to the conflicts and alleged rights abuses involving government troops is a key demand of Western nations, which are starting to roll back sanctions imposed during military rule over Myanmar's human rights record.
Ongoing fighting in northern Kachin state has displaced tens of thousands of people and cast a shadow over the nationwide peace efforts.
In western Rakhine state meanwhile, recent clashes between ethnic Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya have left dozens dead and tens of thousands homeless.
Myanmar's government considers the Rohingya to be foreigners, while many citizens see them as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh and view them with hostility.
Suu Kyi has disappointed some rights campaigners by not offering stronger support to Myanmar's estimated 800,000 Rohingya, described by the United Nations as one of the world's most persecuted minorities.
Delivering a Nobel prize acceptance speech two decades in the making in Oslo last month, Suu Kyi said she and her party "stand ready and willing to play any role in the process of national reconciliation".