Friday, September 9, 2011

New US envoy meets ministers on first visit

Published: 9 September 2011
A new US envoy to Burma kicked off his first trip to the country on Friday as part of Washington’s strategy of engagement with the army-dominated nation.
Derek Mitchell, who was appointed as the first US coordinator for policy on Burma last month, began the visit by meeting foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin in the capital Naypyidaw, a government official told AFP.
He is then scheduled to see a variety of other senior figures including speakers in the parliament — formed after last November’s controversial elections — before returning to Rangoon on Saturday.
Mitchell, a veteran policymaker on Asia, will meet democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday, according to her spokesman Nyan Win.
In his Senate confirmation hearing in June, Mitchell said he would seek “direct and candid” dialogue with Burma’s leaders but that the United States should be flexible in its approach.
His post was created when Congress, under then-president George W. Bush, approved a law on Burma in 2008 that tightened sanctions against the country, but the position was not filled at the time due to a political dispute.
After taking power in 2009 President Barack Obama’s administration changed tack, concluding that the sanctions aimed at isolating Burma had been ineffective.
Mitchell is also set to meet party leaders in Rangoon, including representatives from the National Democratic Force (NDF), which split with Suu Kyi’s party to contest the election.
“I think his visit will be more than fact finding,” said the NDF’s Khin Maung Swe, who expects to meet the envoy on Tuesday and plans to ask about the US stance on sanctions following recent changes in Burma.
The isolated nation’s nominally civilian government has recently appeared to be seeking to improve its image by reaching out to critics such as Suu Kyi, who last month met President Thein Sein, a former general, for the first time.
The Nobel peace prize winner was released from seven straight years of house arrest by the junta days after the election, which was marred by allegations of cheating.
The military’s political proxies claimed an overwhelming victory in the vote.
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