'Dramatic developments' in Myanmar: US official


A top US official on Monday said there are 'dramatic developments under way' in Myanmar, where the military-backed government has shown increasing signs of political reform.

Kurt Campbell, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said there had been 'very consequential dialogue' between democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and the leadership.

He told a Bangkok lecture that while concerns remain, "it is also undeniably the case that there are dramatic developments under way".

President Barack Obama's administration, which has pursued both diplomatic engagement toward and continued sanctions against Myanmar, has welcomed signs of political change in the Southeast Asian nation.

But it has stopped short of changing its stance on the country amid continuing concern over the country's 2,000-odd political prisoners and over human rights abuses in conflicts with armed ethnic minority rebels.

''We have made clear our desire to see continued progress on issues such as prisoner releases," said Campbell. 'We will match their steps with comparable steps.'

Campbell made his remarks as Myanmar government officials said that a prisoner amnesty which would include political detainees was imminent. Rights groups have long said is that the release of political prisoners is essential.

In a recent surprise move last month, Myanmar President Thein Sein ordered work on a controversial $3.6 billion mega dam to stop after rare public opposition to the Chinese-backed hydropower project.

Resistance to the Myitsone Dam on the Irrawaddy River has been building as pro-democracy and environmental activists test the limits of their freedom under the new nominally civilian regime.

The decision to halt the project was the latest in a series of actions apparently aimed at reaching out to critics of the government, which came into power in March after the first election in two decades, held in November.

Thein Sein, a former general who shed his uniform for the election, has also held talks with opposition figurehead Suu Kyi and has surprised many by promising a range of political and economic reforms, although sceptics argue nothing has yet been done that could not be easily reversed.

Suu Kyi for her part has said she believes Thein Sein genuinely wants to push through reforms, but cautioned it was too soon to say whether he would succeed.

The United States has in particular welcomed the leadership's dialogue with the Nobel peace laureate. It praised the dam decision, saying it showed the military-backed leadership was listening to its people.

Campbell was one of several top US State Department officials to hold rare talks with Myanmar's Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin in Washington recently.

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