Myanmar minister says no going back on reforms

January 25, 2012 - 8:45 AM
India Myanmar

Myanmar's Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin, right, shakes hands with Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna before a meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012. (AP Photo/ Mustafa Quraishi)

NEW DELHI (AP) — Myanmar's foreign minister said Wednesday that the transition to democracy in the once-authoritarian southeast Asian country will be gradual and systematic.

"The reform process that we have started is irreversible," Myanmar Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin said in New Delhi during a trip to meet with Indian leaders. "There will be no turning back or derailment on the road to democracy."

Myanmar's military-backed but elected government has eased restrictions on political activity and released hundreds of political prisoners since it took office in March 2011. Opposition leader and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi is now a candidate in parliamentary elections, and President Thein Sein has even suggested that she could be considered for a Cabinet post if she wins.

Maung Lwin said future reforms will be "incremental, systematic and dynamic."

However, he warned that the transition to democracy was not without challenges. He said Myanmar was "prepared and resolute to overcome all these challenges," but did not elaborate on what they were.

For much of the past two decades, Myanmar was a pariah to Western democracies for holding Suu Kyi and other political prisoners and maintaining autocratic military rule.

The easing of political and economic restrictions under the new government was already yielding better relations. A host of top Western diplomats has visited Myanmar to witness the situation and encourage the reforms.

On Monday, the European Union lifted some restrictions including the removal of a visa ban on Myanmar's leaders. Most Western sanctions are still in place as countries watch the reforms' progress and the fairness of an upcoming election.

Maung Lwin said Myanmar was determined to reach out to the international community and to step up its engagement as it prepared to head the ASEAN regional grouping in 2014.

India has stepped up its ties with Myanmar as New Delhi competes to assert its influence in the region. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is scheduled to visit Myanmar in May.

Talks between Maung Lwin and his Indian counterpart S.M. Krishna centered on ways to combat insurgencies, drug trafficking and arms smuggling across the long and porous border shared by the two countries.

Krishna reiterated India's support for infrastructure development and economic projects in Myanmar.

Energy-hungry India and China are competing for access to Myanmar's large natural gas resources.